The Schenectady City School District’s graduation rate may inch up to 62 percent by the end of the summer, thanks to the work of the class of 2015.
That’s better than last year’s rate of 60 percent after summer school.
But it’s not as good as it was just three years ago, when the school district posted a 65 percent graduation rate after summer school. Typically, 20 or more seniors graduate by passing one final Regents exam after summer school.
The last two classes — of 2014 and 2015 — have gone through many changes at the high school, with no corresponding leap in graduation rates. Still, the changes are slowly bearing fruit, school Superintendent Laurence Spring said.
“We thought from that point  forward, we’d see this nice incremental growth,” he said.
Estimated graduation rates as of June:
Schenectady: 58 percent
Amsterdam: 68-69 percent
Schalmont: 95 percent
Niskayuna: 97 percent
Source: school districts
Based on the current number of students who dropped out or had to repeat a grade, he thinks the class of 2016 will have a 65 percent or 66 percent graduation rate.
“The year after that, we’ll be knocking on the door of 70 percent,” Spring predicted.
The class of 2014 was the first to start school in the Ninth Grade Academy, which kept the freshmen in small teams, attending core classes together in classrooms clustered near one another.
The goal was to get more students through ninth grade by making the 2,300-student high school seem smaller and less overwhelming. School officials also thought students would be less likely to fall through the cracks because each team shared four core teachers, for math, English, Social Studies and science. Those teachers were given scheduled time to meet and discuss students who were struggling. Attendance deans also hunted down students who regularly skipped school and found ways to get them back to the classroom.
That year, a record number of students failed ninth grade.
The class of 2015 had the academy as well. In its sophomore year, the high school schedule was changed to add 18 additional hours of instruction time in each class. That’s essentially the same as adding four more weeks to the school year, Spring said.
In their junior year, the district added free breakfast and lunch for every student. Attendance soared, but grades didn’t.
However, the district is seeing indications that more students will graduate in future years, Spring said.
A higher percentage of freshmen passed the algebra Regents this year, he said.
“That’s a pretty good sign,” he added, calling the exam a “gate keeper.”
Grades are going up on other Regents exams too.
The English exam, required for juniors, had a passing rate of 61 percent in 2013. That went to 71 percent last year and 78 percent this year.
The U.S. History exam passing rate has improved by 3 percent a year, from 67 percent in 2013 to 73 percent this year.
In the end, it’s those scores that will matter.
“Those are the things that help get kids to graduation,” Spring said.