The number of students dropping out of Onslow County schools before graduating increased slightly last school year, but the overall dropout rate remains well below the state average.

North Carolina’s dropout rate among public high school students decreased to 2.29 percent during the 2015-2016 school year, a drop from 2.39 percent the previous year, according to data released this week by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

While numbers fluctuate, the state’s dropout rate continues to show a downward trend and has declined every year except one since the 2006-2007 year.

In Onslow County, 135 students dropped out of high school in 2015-16, 13 more students than the previous year, a rate of 1.81 percent.

That local dropout rate jumped slightly from 1.68 percent in 2014-15, but numbers show a long-term decline. Five years ago, 157 students dropped out, a rate of 2.32 percent.

Onslow County Schools also saw an increase in the number of students leaving to enroll in community college. Even though the students remained in school, they are included in the dropout count.

During the 2015-16 year, there were 28 Onslow County students who left and enrolled in a GED program at Coastal Carolina Community College, an increase from 17 students the previous year.

“While Onslow County Schools’ dropout rate is lower than the state rate and well below the national average, we want to ensure that every child reaches his or her full potential,” Onslow County Schools’ Public Information Officer Suzie Ulbrich said. “We are committed to establishing programs and strategies that keep students in school. We continue to strengthen partnerships between parents, teachers, students, school leaders, and communities so that all students succeed and when they graduate they are prepared for college, a career, and a future as a productive, critically-thinking, lifelong learner.”

Carteret County Public Schools saw its dropout rate decrease from 3.3 percent to 1.84 percent, dropping from 93 to 53 students in 2015-16. The dropout rate for Duplin County Schools increased slightly from 2.19 percent to 2.34 percent, with five more students dropping out than the previous year, making it the only local school system with a rate higher than the state average.

The number of students dropping out in Jones County has continued to decline over the past five years, from a little over 3 percent to less than 1 percent. Last school year, Jones Sr. High School had just one student dropout the entire year.

Jones County has just one high school, and just one or two students dropping out can have a large impact on percentages and reporting, said Jones County Schools Superintendent Michael Bracy.

Yet, the small size of the high school can have a big advantage.

Because of its small size, the high school staff knows when a student is excessively absent or needs extra support, Bracy said.

Bracy said each student at Jones Sr. has a personal advocate and the school staff works as a team to support its students. The schools can also be creative in offering options to keep students engaged, offering college classes and dual enrollment programs with Lenoir Community College.

“It is because of caring adults and students taking responsibility that our positive results are what they are,” Bracy said. “I continue to be proud of the staff and students for continuing the vision of ‘Turning Potential into Possible’.”