Schenectady High graduation rate improves

School superintendent expects start of upward trend
Schenectady school Superintendent Larry Spring talks about a boost in state aid in 2017.
Schenectady school Superintendent Larry Spring talks about a boost in state aid in 2017.

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SCHENECTADY — Schenectady High School’s graduation rate is set to rise 7 percentage points as hundreds of seniors turn to graduates at Proctors on Wednesday morning, Superintendent Larry Spring said Tuesday.

The high school’s June graduation rate is on track to hit at least 66 percent, up from 59 percent last June, and the highest the school’s graduation rate has been in over a decade.

The improvement marks the first significant uptick in the graduation rate since the class of 2016, which posted a June graduation rate of 65 percent, up from 58 percent in June 2015, before the rate returned to just under 60 percent the past two years – the lowest in the region.

But unlike with the 2016 graduation, Spring on Tuesday said he was confident this year’s senior class would usher in a turnaround in the district’s graduation rate, noting the high school’s rising seniors, juniors and sophomores are accumulating more credits and fewer course failures than their counterparts in recent years.

“As we look at where our juniors are, where our sophomores are, where our freshmen are, we see increasingly strong health indicators in terms of the markers we are looking at for on track to graduation,” Spring said. “I think we are going to continue to see a nice upward trend for student graduation.”

Spring has said recent graduating classes were devastated by major budget cuts that aligned with critical transition years in middle school and early high school, resulting in problems that ultimately manifested in low graduation rates.

“It takes awhile to realize what you’ve done to kids,” Spring said in the days before last year’s high school graduation, when the rate remained flat. “Education cuts don’t heal.”

The students most affected by those cuts have largely exited the district, and the district has been in a position to invest in added services and supports for students in recent years.

At the high school, new programs provide students the space and teacher support to get caught up on outstanding credits or to study for Regents exams. Counselors work as intensive case managers for struggling students, helping students manage their time and resolve the daily problems and stresses that arise in their lives. The district has added dozens of staff positions in the past two years to its general education continuum, which uses targeted supports in a way that mirrors special education to students who don’t qualify for special education.

“The high school is getting a pretty good chunk of money next year to increase those services,” Spring said. “We would expect to see continued growth, because we are providing additional support at the high school and additional support in the [grades] preparing kids for high school.”

The graduation rate may still rise over the summer as some students finish work or exams they still need to pass before graduating; the state also tracks and holds districts accountable for their August graduation rates. But Spring said the high school has improved getting students done with their requirements in time for the June graduation ceremony, so he does not expect as much change between June and August as the district has seen in recent years.

Outgrowing Proctors?

As Schenectady’s graduation rate increases so will the number of graduates – as well as family and friends – trying to squeeze into Proctors’ main theater for the annual graduation. The high school this year reduced the number of tickets each graduate gets to invite family and friends from four to three, and the space constraints at Proctors will only intensify as the district expects to improve its graduation rate.

Spring said he planned to start involving the families of rising seniors and juniors in a discussion about options for future graduations. Spring said he was confident next year’s graduation would be hosted at Proctors but wouldn’t commit to a Proctors graduation in the following years.

Alternatives to the current graduation method — all graduates attending one ceremony at Proctors – could include finding a new site or dividing the graduating class into multiple ceremonies. But Spring said it was too early to enumerate alternative options.

“As that [graduation rate] increase, we’ll have to make some decisions,” Spring said. “This is a tough problem, and we need to be open to some pretty creative solutions.”

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