That front-page article the Gazette ran yesterday about the Schenectady school district’s latest crop of graduates was truly a good-news story. It wasn’t easy for those 44 students who got their high school diploma only after attending summer school, but they persevered, making up work they hadn’t done, classes they hadn’t taken and tests they hadn’t passed so they could graduate with their peers.
The numbers say it all: 65 percent of the class of 2013 graduated, the most in seven years — during which time the graduation rate was always below 60 percent (before that, there were years when it was below 50 percent!). These students truly deserve the recognition they’re getting from their families, friends and community.
Another piece of good news was delivered by Superintendent Laurence Spring at this year’s regular graduation in June: The district’s dropout rate this year was down 26 percent. That may have something to do with the “Undroppable” social media campaign — featuring videos of at-risk kids telling powerful stories of why and how they overcame major challenges and stayed in school — that Schenectady has embraced so fully. Spring invited the creator of the campaign, filmmaker Jason Pollock, to be this year’s commencement speaker, and Pollock gave an entertaining, inspiring talk that has gone viral on the Internet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWJeIkhLAB8).
These positive numbers, this sense of commitment on the part of students and adults, are so important in a school district trying to turn around its academic culture and reputation.
But dropping out or graduating is just the endgame: The path for most kids is actually set earlier, much earlier. And there’s a growing realization in the community that this is so, as well as a desire to do something to help.
This can be seen in the excellent proposal for a massive volunteer-based pre-k literacy campaign put forth this spring by a private citizen named Al Magid.
It can also be seen in the new library branch the county just authorized for upper State Street to replace the Duane and Hamilton Hill branches, expected to open in 2015. The branch will focus on reading and writing, with study, program and classroom space, as well as state-of-the-art computers and other technology, that the old branches lack. And it will be called the family literacy center, exactly what those communities and the greater family of Schenectady need.