Schenectady city schools this year are expecting to post a graduation rate slightly lower than last year, which was heralded as the highest graduation rate in a decade.
But Superintendent Larry Spring on Thursday said variation in graduation rates is to be expected and that that the class is still likely to register a graduation rate higher than most recent classes.
“I’m not going to buy into the narrative that the second highest graduation rate in 11 years is a bad thing,” Spring said.
Spring said he expects the graduation rate for Friday’s commencement to sit at around 62 percent; at the same time last year, he reported a graduation rate of 65 percent. In all, the district will graduate 496 students Friday, including some graduating early or in five or six years.
The Class of 2017 faced particularly difficult times as they transitioned from middle school to high school, a key move for students, Spring said. Schenectady police increased their presence outside Mont Pleasant Middle School after a series of fights were posted to the internet, and the district was forced to cut expenses amid the financial fallout of the Great Recession – all as the Class of 2017 tried to start their high school careers on track to graduate.
“As our student needs were increasing and they were demonstrating pretty intense needs to us, we were cutting $4 million, $5 million, shedding staff and services for those kids who were screaming out they needed more not less,” Spring said.
He said regular looks at the “cohort health” of a class moving through school indicated this year’s graduation rate might drop compared to last year, and School Board President Cathy Lewis has suggested the same for the past couple of months.
Schenectady school officials prefer to point to the August graduation rate, after a final push of students pass Regents exams and finish class work. Last year’s August graduation rate was 69 percent, the highest since the district graduated 71 percent of its students by August 2006.
Spring said he expected this summer’s August rate to fall between 65 percent and 67 percent, with around 40 to 60 students still working to finish outstanding graduation requirements in the coming weeks.
“If we get that same bump again this summer, we will be a little bit lower than we were this past year,” Spring said.