Graduation rate rises at RFA

Published Feb 8, 2018 at 4:00pm

Graduation results for Rome Free Academy continued their gradual rise, as the Class of 2017 rate including summer school students was up for the fifth straight year.

RFA’s 2017 graduation rate through last August was 81 percent for 387 students who entered ninth grade in 2013, according to state Education Department data issued Wednesday. It increased from 80 percent, 79 percent, 76 percent and 75.2 percent respectively for the prior four years.

Through last June, excluding summer school graduates, RFA’s 2017 graduation rate was 78 percent, up from 76 percent.

The RFA results were slightly lower than statewide averages. The overall 2017 graduation rate across the state through June was 80.2 percent, up slightly from 79.7 percent the prior year, the state Education Department said. Including summer school graduates, the statewide rate through August was 82.1 percent.

Rome Board of Education President Paul Fitzpatrick said today that while he wanted to review the data further, having the RFA graduation rate go up “obviously is a good thing.” He added, “that’s our goal...to increase the graduation rate.”

Among upcoming factors, Fitzpatrick pointed out that for the Class of 2018 which is due to graduate in June, the district is looking forward to the impact from the “first cohort” of students taking part in a program through the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection. The program, which aims to improve graduation rates for at-risk students, was launched with a 2014 freshman group at RFA. It includes about 50 students on track to graduate in the current school year, Rome officials have said.

Rome school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake said “as always, we are pleased to see the graduation rates continuously rise.” He commented that the recent slight year-to-year increase “is most likely attributed (to) the staff at RFA being cognizant of the needs of students relevant to completing high school and then our middle school and elementary staff working to engage students in the importance of education.”

For rates to continue improving, the Rome superintendent added, “we need to keep our program evolving and ensure that we are offering academic opportunities for students who are traditionally not engaged in school to keep them active and participating in high school, as opposed to dropping out.”

RFA’s 2017 rate through last August again was the second lowest in Oneida County, trailed only by Proctor High School of Utica which had a 2017 rate of 74 percent through last August.

They are the county’s two largest school districts. Rome district officials previously have observed that RFA and Proctor are in districts classified by the state as high needs urban/suburban low-wealth. Such districts often serve more socioeconomically disadvantaged students who face more educational challenges, as well as more students learning English as a new language, school officials have said.

For the state’s “Big 5” city school districts, the 2017 graduation rates through June included New York City, 71.1 percent; Buffalo, 62.7 percent; Rochester, 51.9 percent; Syracuse, 60.5 percent; Yonkers, 82.8 percent. All were up from 2016 except for Syracuse, which declined slightly.

“New York’s graduation rate continues its steady, upward trend,” said state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “We see incremental improvements across the state, holding onto last year’s gains and slowly building upon them. And that’s good news. At the same time, however, troubling gaps in achievement persist, and we must accelerate the pace of improvement. With its focus on equity, the state’s newly approved ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) plan will help drive the changes we need to ensure all children have the same opportunities for success.”