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Sun., Oct. 4
Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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Two area schools identified for performance by SED


NORFOLK - The Norwood-Norfolk Central School District is among 70 districts statewide identified as a Focus District by the state Education Department, meaning they must develop comprehensive plans to support improvements.

The Potsdam Central School District, on the other hand, was one of 249 identified as a Reward School for their high achievement and high progress.

Focus Districts were identified by the state Education Department as a result of their low performance and lack of progress in English language arts and math combined or graduation rates for one or more accountability groups.

“They’re now looking at districts that have certain data that is well below the state average. We’re being compared to data throughout the state,” Norwood-Norfolk Superintendent Elizabeth A. Kirnie said.

In her district’s case, Mrs. Kirnie said they were identified because of the graduation rate of economically disadvantaged students in the Cohort class of 2006, those who entered the ninth grade together in 2006 and graduated together in 2010.

“We were caught on the graduation rate of the 2006 Cohort for economically disadvantaged students because it was significantly below the state average. Fewer than 50 percent of students who were considered economically disadvantaged were graduating as opposed to their peers who were not economically disadvantaged and who were graduating at closer to 80 percent,” she said.

“There was a great divide,” Mrs. Kirnie said. “We recognized that.”

Because the subgroup is a smaller number of students in a smaller school, she said they’re at a disadvantage compared to larger urban districts.

“Because of our numbers, whether one or two students graduates or not can put us over the line very quickly as opposed to larger urban districts where hundreds of students are graduating. One dropout has less impact on their school data,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

They have already made progress in improving graduation rates for the subgroup, she said.

“This is our second year now of putting strategies in place. The graduation rate for that subgroup has gone up beyond 70 percent. We feel that our strategies are successful enough that we’ll continue them,” she said.

However, they continue to plot out more strategies to improve that number even more, according to the superintendent.

“We’re initiating even more strategies this year. However, the old data doesn’t go away. The data from a few years ago is still the data the state is operating under. We’re required to comply with certain reports,” she said.

“We see it as truly an opportunity to focus even more on graduation rates which we recognize are always a challenge, and to put even more energy into this process,” Mrs. Kirnie said. “We welcome this as another challenge. Our goal is to make sure every students, economically disadvantaged or not, has the same opportunity to graduate college- and career-ready.”

High school Principal Robin J. Fetter said that a mentoring program is among their initiatives, and the response has been steady for volunteers willing to assist students who might be in danger of not graduating.

She said that she currently has more than 20 teacher volunteers who want to mentor one or two students, which would involve checking on their classwork and, if necessary, calling parents to let them know how well or how poorly their student is doing.

“There are great kids. They’ll respond,” she said.

“I think the process is going to pay off in the end,” Mrs. Kirnie said. In Potsdam, Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said their student performance in math and ELA, combined with their graduation rate, easily placed them above the state averages and landing them a spot as a Reward School. They were one of 249 schools identified as Rewards Schools.

“Reward Schools are among those in the state that have the highest achievement in ELA and math or low graduation rates for a particular group of students like students with disabilities,” he said.

“I believe a large part of it is in relation to our graduation rates, which have been very strong. We reported to the board (of education) over the summer from a report given to us from the state Education Department that our graduation rates were the second highest in the region of 33 schools.

Potsdam is part of region that includes St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson counties.

“In terms of graduate rate, I know that every student is looked at very closely to make sure they’re not falling behind,” he said, noting Potsdam’s graduation rate in 2011 was 88 percent, compared to the state average of 74 percent. They had been at 95 percent the previous year.

He said 59.2 percent of the students graduated in 2011 with an advanced Regents diploma, while the state average was 30.6.

The district’s “aspirational rates” - another area the state looks at in evaluating schools - was also high. Aspirational rates are the percentage of students who are college- and career-ready as indicated by their success on the math and ELA Regents examinations, Mr. Brady said.

Students who score 75 percent or above on ELA and 80 percent or above on math are considered college- and career ready.

“Potsdam was the highest in the region of 33 schools,” he said, with a rate of 60.8 percent, compared to the state average of 34.7 percent.

“We are very happy with our administration and our staff,” Mr. Brady said. “They work very hard to ensure students are achieving.”

No local schools were identified as Priority Schools, those who are among the lowest 5 percent in the state of terms of combined English language arts and mathematics performance that are not making progress, as well as those schools that have had graduation rates below 60 percent for the last several years.

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