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St. Lawrence Central sees improvement 2012 grad rate

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BRASHER FALLS - It will be another year before state education department releases its statistics, but St. Lawrence Central officials say they expect the numbers to show that nearly four of every five students included in the 2008 cohort graduated on time.

It’s a significant improvement for a district that saw just over 60 percent of the students that entered ninth grade in September 2007 graduate within four years.

Guidance counselor Dustin Stover said the 2008 cohort included 105 students. “The cohort is based on the time when students start their English and social studies classes in grade 9. That cohort changes year to year and month to month as students move in and move out of the district,” he said, noting 19 of the 105 students included in the 2008 cohort had moved out of the district before the end of the 2011-12 school year.

Mr. Stover said 78 percent of the 86 students in the class of 2012 graduated with their classmates last month. He said nine students dropped out of school, three students completed individual education plans, one student will graduate in August and one student will graduate in June 2013.

He said five students in the 2008 cohort earned their general equivalency diplomas, a drop from past years, as school officials worked to convince struggling students to stay in school. “In the past, it would probably have been 20 students. This is a big improvement,” he said.

Mr. Stover noted nine students had been put on an at risk status of not graduating in June, but eight of those nine students earned their diplomas on the last Friday of June.

School officials also said some of the students counted as drop outs for St. Lawrence Central actually spent very little of their high school careers in the Brasher Falls district.

They said one student moved out of the district and never registered at another school; another student moved into the district in November to live with his girlfriend and after their relationship ended in April moved back into his previous district and never reentered school. “That student was on track to graduate,” outgoing high school and current middle school Principal Christopher Rose said.

A third student moved into the district on May 15 and never spent a day at St. Lawrence Central since they were already enrolled in a BOCES GED program when they moved into the district. “That student counts 1.2 percent against us,” Mr. Rose pointed out.

School officials said another student on track to graduate ran into legal difficulties during his senior year and earned his GED while he was being held at the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility. “I raised a stink about that one,” School Superintendent Stephen Putman, who also serves on the St. Lawrence County Legislature, said. “They just handed him a GED.”

They pointed out the one student identified as at risk that did not graduate with his classmates did not take advantage of extra opportunities, and the student returning for an extra year of school was the result of a family decision based on that student’s health issues. “That was what was best for that student, no question,” Mr. Rose said, “but it counts as another 1.2 percent against us.”

School officials said the issues facing students give some context to the simple numbers that are a graduation rate. The 61 percent cohort for the 2007 cohort, for example, didn’t include the three students graduating with the class of 2012.

“We’ve had unacceptable grad rates, but it is not as simple as it looks. There was a need for early literacy work, and we are starting to see the fruits of that labor. We started literacy intervention at the elementary school in 2006-07. I think you are going to see numbers like this year’s (78 percent) and better because of the effort we have put in,” Mr. Putman said.

The district has also taken steps to convince students not to drop out of school. The 2008 cohort of nine drop outs, for example, included five students who left school in ninth grade, one in 10th grade and one in 11th grade along with the two 12th grade students who only spent a short period of their high school careers at St. Lawrence Central.

Incoming high school Principal Lisa Grenville said the district has changed its retention policies so 16 year olds aren’t just entering ninth grade. “Those students that dropped out in ninth grade in the 2008 cohort would have had to have been retained two times,” she said.

Mr. Rose said there were no ninth grade dropouts this year, and the only student, a junior, who quit school was upset that he wasn’t in a BOCES program.

Mr. Stover said he is optimistic the 2009 cohort will continue the improvement trend. “There are 120 students in the cohort, and 15 of the 107 still at our school we consider to be at risk,” he noted.

Mr. Rose said he was impressed by the effort from the district’s teachers to help struggling students. “People are paying more attention, and I’m seeing a willingness from our staff to work with those at risk students. I’m proud of how well our staff worked to get this year’s eight at risk students to graduation,” he noted.

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