Graduation rates in the Rochester City School District are projected to hit 10-year highs, according to data released Aug. 14 by the Board of Education.
Across the district, the June 2019 graduation rate is expected to be 58 percent. The rate last year was 53.5 percent. In June 2013, the rate was 43 percent.
At East High, the rate is expected to be 65 percent. Last year, the rate was 51.7 percent, and in June 2013, the rate was barely 30 percent.
“There is no celebrating or articulation of mission accomplished,” said Board of Education President Van Henri White. “Indeed, we are far, far from accomplishing our mission.”
He added that the improvement “signifies hope for our citizens.”
White, speaking for himself and not the board, seemed heartened by the success at East and said it could be a model. “This is the time for us to be bold. I’m hoping that next year I can convince Terry and my colleagues that we ought to open up a second comprehensive high school modeled after what they are doing at East High School.”
The district’s rates have not been verified by the state Education Department.
“We’re pretty good at projecting these numbers,” White said at a news conference. “For the last six, seven years it’s become somewhat of a science.”
Graduation rates and the overall state of the school district continue to be flashpoints. Mayor Lovely Warren had called for a referendum this November over whether the state Department of Education should take at least temporary control of the schools. The school board fought the move, and State Supreme Court Justice J. Scott Odorisi granted an injunction to stop the ballot initiative. The city appealed the decision.
The district still is developing its action plan in response to the report from Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino, which listed numerous deficiencies. In a letter dated Aug. 2, the state Education Department wrote that a “recent submission provides a more cohesive vision for improvement than the version submitted in March.” However, the letter went on, “there are some instances in which additional revisions are required.”
Further revisions are due Aug. 30, the letter stated.
As for the Education Department’s reaction to the RCSD rates, spokeswoman Emily DeSantis wrote in an email that Education Commissioner Mary Elia will meet with RCSD Superintendent Terry Dade “in the coming days and we will work with Superintendent Dade to ensure the students of the district receive the education they need and deserve. Chancellor Rosa, Vice Chancellor Brown and Regent Norwood are committed to continuing our work to ensure stability and a brighter future for the students of Rochester. “
A statement from city Communications Director Justin Roj said, “While we welcome any sign of slight progress in the Rochester City School District, it is disturbing that over the past five years the increase in graduation rates are almost exclusively attributed to local diplomas, which the State has been asking districts to phase out. We know that many of our children are not leaving the District ready for college or a career, and it is incumbent upon all of us to fight for true change on their behalf.”
White said that local diplomas “didn’t increase dramatically from one year to the next. It’s not like we’re increasing our graduation rate on the backs of people who are getting local diplomas.”
White said the new code of conduct and changes in the suspension policy contributed to the higher rates.
Dade, starting his first year after coming from Virginia, said there is a national discussion over the meaning of college- or career-ready.
“In my previous district, we looked at 21st-century skills that every single child needs to be successful in college, career and beyond,” he said. “That is skills in cooperation and collaboration, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity. How you measure that is something we’re still grappling with as a nation. We know that graduation is a gatekeeper for our students. So we’ll never shy away from make sure that our students are able to walk across the stage, which allows then to walk though doors beyond that K-12 experience as it relates to college- and career-ready.”
The 2019 class at East High was the first to graduate after spending their four full years with the University of Rochester being in charge. UR became the Educational Partnership Organization in 2015 for students entering in 2012. Prior to UR involvement, East was facing closure because of chronic problems.
Lorna Washington, assistant superintendent of strategic planning for East High Educational Partnership Organization, said the students have benefited from a culture change in academic and support services.
“They’ve absolutely been able to experience what it looks like to be successful and to know that they are able to achieve what they set out to achieve,” she said. “ … At East we’ve been intentional about making sure they know they have the abilities and we will nurture whatever those abilities are to make sure they are successful.”
This story was updated Aug. 16 with comments from the state Education Department.