By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — Many area schools surpass the national graduation rates recently praised by the U.S. Department of Education as the highest in history in a recently released report.
The 80 percent rate is above the state average of 74 percent, for the school year that ended in 2012. According to a state Education Department release, while more work is being done to improve the rates, the fact that the state rate remained stable, despite increased requirements, is noteworthy.
Local educators said they are working to improve their rates, no matter how they compared to the state average.
Sidney Central School Superintendent Bill Christensen said that with its Regents program, New York has more requirements than some other states, so the rate can’t be compared to the overall national average.
For those graduating in four years, the total in Sidney in 2012 was 79.8 percent in a class of 104. With recent ninth- and 10th-grade Regents scores being the highest ever, the rates should continue to improve, Christensen speculated. (The 2013 rate was not available.)
But the statistic is but “one piece of the puzzle” in determining future success, Christensen said.
“You have to look at the whole program to see how effective a program is. Not every student is going to graduate in four years.”
In preparing students for their future, career and technical training can be the answer, and that takes extra time, he said.
At Oneonta High School, the rate in 2012 was 75.9 percent with a graduating class of 162. The rate in 2013 is 80 percent, Principal Thomas Brindley said.
Brindley attributed the school’s improvement to the ability of his teachers to make connections with their students. None of this can happen without parental support, he said. Brindley said he expects gains to continue because lines of communication are open and people are working together. This includes improving scheduling so students will have more opportunities to take classes that they are interested in.
“We want students to feel committed,” he said.
Brindley noted that when students get involved, the byproduct is academic motivation and achievement. Even as the Common Core-based Regents tests are about to be unveiled in June, Brindley said he expects continued success because of the quality of the teachers in his school. He added that the district will continue its efforts to evaluate students early, not only concerning academics, but also their physical and mental health, to ensure positive outcomes.
Morris Central School has such a relatively small class that when one or two students don’t graduate, it really impacts the results, Superintendent Matthew Sheldon noted. This happened in 2012 when students left the school and didn’t re-register elsewhere, resulting in a graduation rate of 61.9 percent in a class of 42 students. The rate jumped back up to 89 percent in 2013.
The 2012 figure notwithstanding, Sheldon said that small schools like Morris can usually achieve a rate above the state average, noting that teachers can build one-on-one relationships. Students who have made a connection to an adult in school are more likely to succeed, he said.
Sheldon said his staff are attentive to issues such as poor attendance that can lead to large problems. According to Sheldon, physical, emotional and behavioral issues are best addressed before middle school age to put students on a path toward graduation. He said that it has been helpful to work with the Otsego Northern Catskills BOCES to ensure that students who work best in nontraditional classrooms, or who wish to pursue vocational training, have the opportunity to do so.
Laurens Central School Superintendent Romona Wenck said that with one student equaling as much as 4 percent of the graduating class, the rates can vary widely depending on the school year. In 2012, the rate was 77.8 percent with a class of 27. The total for 2013 was not available.
In general, Wenck said “we are above the state average because each child is known by name.”
“You know a lot about them,” including their strengths and weaknesses, she said, adding that such knowledge makes a big difference.
However, knowledge isn’t everything; Wenck noted that the district lacks resources to address the health needs of her students’ families — something she said could help students get what they need to graduate.
“We can get kids through courses, but when a family is struggling, that can make a big difference,” Wenck said.
At Delaware Academy Central School in Delhi, the rate was 83.6 percent with an enrollment of 73. It was about 90 percent in 2013.
Superintendent Jason Thomson said early intervention is key to keeping students in school. As soon as absenteeism is noted for a student, the school has a system in place to try and make sure the student does not drop out, Thomson said.
“We stress the importance of the high school diploma” and keep students engaged, he said, adding that a graduation rate of 100 percent is realistic for his district.
To achieve such a goal, which smaller schools such as Andes and Schenevus did in 2012, Delhi must build on the efforts of great teachers and involved administrators and parents, which already exists, Thomson said.
If a bond to the teacher can be established with a student, it tends to result in success, Thomson said, adding that parents can help by echoing the messages being sent by the school so that everybody works together as a team.
And it helps when students are eager to learn, he noted.
“We need to find a way to keep kids engaged,” Thomson added, “by offering courses that are stimulating.”