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Graduation rates in the region show improvement

Date: 2/1/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

There was good news for the school administrators in Springfield, Chicopee and Holyoke last week with the release of the high school graduation rates for 2012, although each of the communities are still behind the statewide rate of 84.7 percent.

The graduation rates measure the percentage of students who were first time ninth graders in the 2008-2009 school year who received a diploma in June or August of 2012.

According to data released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Educations last week, 84.7 percent of 73,479 students in the 2012 cohort graduated within four years, an increase of 1.3 percentage points from the 2011 cohort and 4.8 percentage points from the 2006 cohort, when the department first began calculating the cohort graduation rate.

In Springfield, the overall graduation rate was 56.6 percent, an increase over the previous year's rate of 52.1 percent. The rate of 74.6 percent for Central High School marked a decrease of 4.5 percent, while The High School of Commerce saw an increase of 5.3 percent to 35.4 percent and Roger Putnam Vocational Technical High School saw a jump to 71.1 percent marking a 10.6 percent increase. The Renaissance School saw a decrease of 1.1 percent brining it to 78.9 percent.

Springfield School Superintendent Daniel Warwick told the School Committee last week that he believes the city is starting to see the results from a group of programs and practices designed to keep more students in school.

In Springfield, initiatives to help at risk students have included identifying students who might be dropping out early and providing the necessary academic and social/emotional supports; improving student attendance and expansion of alternative and flexible pathways to graduation, such has on-line credit recovery courses. Graduation coaches have also been added to help students as well as offering free night and summer school courses.

"We're heading in the right direction," Mayor Domenic Sarno responded to the news.

Chicopee School Superintendent Richard Rege was "very, very pleased" with the graduation statistics. In Chicopee, the graduation rate saw an increase from 69.7 in 2011 to 72.5 in 2012. He added he believes the increases are especially important for a district with a 65 percent poverty rate.

Rege said the rates of Chicopee High School and Chicopee Comprehensive High School are "pretty much the same."

He credited the increase to the measures put in place for eighth and ninth graders. He explained the district hired two eighth to ninth grade transition counselors who work with at risk eighth graders. The counselors make home visits, work with the students to resolve academic issues and help them with personal concerns.

"The key is to make sure those kids have a healthy foundation in the ninth grade," he said.

The counselors stay with the students through the ninth grade, when the students also receive help from a high school guidance counselor. According to the state information, "statewide, 25.3 percent of all dropouts were 9th graders, 25.8 percent were 10th graders, 23.6 percent were 11th graders, and 25.3 percent were 12th graders."

The other program that has made a difference is the E2020 credit recovery program, an on-line service that is used in the two regular high schools on a limited basis, but is uses extensively by the students at Chicopee Academy.

Rege said those students are often 25 to 30 credits behind the contemporaries at the other schools and the on-line program allows them to catch up faster.

"They can see a way to get to their goals," he said.

In Holyoke, the graduation rate went from 49.5 percent in 2011 to 52.8 percent. Douglas Arnold, the director of Student Services, explained the rate had been "very flat" for the past four years with increases at Holyoke High School, but issues at William Dean Technical High School and the alternative school, The Center for Excellence, have pulled the average down.

He said the graduation rate at Holyoke High School was 67.6 percent.

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said he was pleased by the increase but noted "we still have a long way to go."