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Story - Education

Apr 4, 2010 12:13 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Local high school graduation rates remain above state average

Apr 4, 2010 12:13 PM

School districts across the South Fork maintained their historically higher-than-average graduation rates in 2009, with some schools seeing modest gains over recent years, according to numbers just released by the New York State Education Department.

This past June, the 10 districts with high schools between Mastic Beach and Montauk graduated, on average, 85 percent of the students who had entered the ninth grade in 2005, according to the state. Statewide, 72 percent of students graduated on time in June. If those students who attended summer school and graduated in August 2009 are taken into account, the South Fork’s average graduation rate rises to 87 percent, and the statewide figure increases to 74 percent, according to the state report released on March 9.

Officials at some local districts said they saw positive results from “safety net” programs, like summer schools and alternative high schools, in the last decade. Many of those officials also said that a growing population of students who speak English as a second language are presenting new challenges for local educators.

The Hampton Bays School District saw impressive results from the summer school it ran for the first time last year. By last June, 84 percent of the students who began high school in 2005 had graduated. But by the end of August, that figure shot up to 90 percent, putting it on par with the Westhampton Beach School District.

Denise Lindsay, the director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Hampton Bays, said that summer school teachers fought to get each student to show up for class and complete the credits they needed to graduate.

“We were calling and knocking on doors saying, ‘Let’s go,’” she said. “It’s a small community. We know our kids.”

Ms. Lindsay also pointed to the alternative high school that the district started five years ago, which offers afternoon classes for students who otherwise might have dropped out of school.

“They come here feeling defeated, like ‘I failed,’” said Richard Iannelli, the science teacher who is in charge of the Hampton Bays alternative school. “The first thing you see—and I see a little spark in there—is ‘I can do it.’”

On Monday, March 8, the Hampton Bays School District started a special alternative high school program geared specifically toward students who speak English as a second language. The program, funded by a $25,000 grant from New York State, employs a teacher, a translator and a teacher’s assistant, all of whom work closely with non-native English speakers and help catch them up.

East Hampton School District also got a boost from its summer school program, which raised that district’s graduation rate from 84 percent in June to 87 percent in August. That district is working to accommodate an influx of students who speak Spanish as their first language, according to Superintendent Ray Gualtieri. Dr. Gualtieri explained that that population has increased “rapidly” over the last five to seven years.

As a result of that and other factors, Dr. Gualtieri said there is often a significant lag these days between the four-year graduation rate and the final number of students in a class who earn a diploma. Some earn it over the summer while others take five years.

“For kids who don’t speak English when they enter as a freshman in high school, they almost always take five years,” he said.

East Hampton’s four-year graduation rate has fluctuated between 77 and 84 percent since 2006. But each year, the five-year graduation rate tacks at least three more percentage points onto that figure.

Three years ago, East Hampton also started an alternative high school program, which begins in the early afternoon and puts students in smaller groups where they get more attention from teachers and counsellors.

“We feel that’s a safety net that we were able to put in that keeps a lot of kids in school,” Dr. Gualtieri said.

Like East Hampton and Hampton Bays, the Center Moriches School District has a growing population of students who speak English as a second language, according to Center Moriches Superintendent Donald James. He said that group has doubled in number over the last four years, and that those students are much more likely to graduate in five years rather than four.

“They’re bright, hardworking kids, but simultaneously they’re trying to learn English,” he said.

After the four-year graduation rate in Center Moriches sank from 84 to 81 percent between 2006 and 2008, the rate for the class of 2009 shot up to 88 percent. Dr. James cautioned that in a district that graduates a little more than 100 students each year, graduation rates are prone to minor year-to-year fluctuations, and might not be useful to track short-term trends.

Still, he attributed the recent gains to a student tracking policy that he and his staff implemented in recent years. He explained that a team of guidance counsellors and administrators “put together a profile for every single child,” with the intention of monitoring their progress and seeing them through to graduation.

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Helping more students to get a high school diploma is just one necessary step. The second is preparing them sufficiently to deal with the responsibilities and academic challenges of college. I'd be fascinated to see some credible stats on how many students from our local high schools enroll in college and then actually manage to graduate with a college degree.
By bailey (52), East Hampton on Mar 26, 10 9:25 AM
All the students in the photo have hats on - they should turn up the heat in the schools.
By Sag (54), Sag harbor on Mar 26, 10 10:36 AM