Graduation rates on rise at RFA

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Rome Free Academy’s graduation rate for its Class of 2018 including summer graduates jumped by 4 percent from 2017, accelerating the pace of improvements over the past four years.

For 359 students who entered ninth grade in 2014, RFA’s 2018 graduation rate through last August was 85 percent, according to state Education Department data that was announced Wednesday.

The rate rose from 81 percent in 2017 through August, continuing an increase from 80 percent, 79 percent and 76 percent respectively for the four years before that.

Excluding summer graduates, RFA’s 2018 graduation rate through June was 82 percent, up from 78 percent in 2017 and 76 percent in 2016.

RFA’s results surpassed statewide averages. The overall 2018 graduation rate through June for the state’s public schools was 80.4 percent, up from 80.2 percent. With summer graduates included, the statewide 2018 rate through August was 82.6 percent, up from 82.1 percent.

For the Rome district, “obviously we are extremely excited about the significant increase in graduation rate for the high school,” district Superintendent Peter C. Blake said Wednesday. “In the past four years, the four-year graduation rate has risen 10 percent.”

Seeing the graduation rates reach the 2018 levels “is great for Rome,” commented Blake, noting “historically the graduation rate had hovered in the mid-to-high 70s.” He commended “the teachers, staff, parents, and administration of the high school that have worked diligently over the previous few years to ensure that more students are completing high school with a diploma. It has been an area of extreme focus for RFA and the data is showing the fruits of their labor.”

But Blake also observed “We still have work to go because until we hit 100 percent of students completing high school, we are dropping the ball somewhere.”

He added, “I believe that the high school administration and staff have developed plans for increased and continued success and look forward to seeing the quality students that are produced in the coming years.”

RFA’s Class of 2018 included the first group of students who beginning as freshmen took part in a program through the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection that aims to improve graduation rates for at-risk pupils.

Among the program’s features are adult professional youth advocates who serve as mentors and role models for certain students who pose various risk factors such as high absenteeism, low test scores, and eligibility for free or reduced price lunches.

It was launched at RFA in 2014 with an initial group of about 20 freshman at the time and continues to involve grades 9-12, totaling about 120 students for the four grades overall.

Despite the improvement, RFA’s 2018 graduation rate through August remained one of the lowest among Oneida County schools, with only Proctor High School of Utica and Adirondack High School having lower rates; Utica and Rome, the county’s two largest districts, are classified by the state as high needs urban/suburban low-wealth districts, a category that often serves more socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Also posting a lower rate was Oneida High School, just inside the neighboring Madison County border.

For the state’s “Big 5” city school districts, the 2018 graduation rates through June included New York City, 72.7 percent; Buffalo, 62.6 percent; Rochester, 53.5 percent; Syracuse, 58.3 percent; Yonkers, 80.3 percent. The New York City and Rochester rates were up slightly from 2017, while Buffalo was basically flat and Syracuse and Yonkers both declined, the Education Department said.

The overall statewide graduation rate “continues its steady, upward trend,” said state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “We would, of course, like to see the pace of improvement accelerated, especially in our gap-closing efforts. But it’s critical that we continue to maintain and build upon our gains, as we have done consistently.”

Elia expressed confidence that the state ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) plan’s “focus on equity will keep our students and our schools moving in the right direction.” ESSA is the federal government’s revision of the prior No Child Left Behind law, involving national requirements for public school education.

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