Ten years ago, the graduation rate for William Floyd High School slumped at 62 percent. What has transpired over the past decade brought the graduation rate up to the highest ever. “It truly does take a village,” said superintendent Kevin M. Coster. “From guidance counselors to classroom teachers and coaches, we’re going kid by kid and schedule by schedule to get our students across that stage.”
In August, 35 more students graduated from the summer school program, bringing the unofficial graduation rate for 2017 to 85 percent. District spokesperson James Montalto noted the number would not become official until the state approves it later this month. Now, the district seeks to bring their graduation rate to at least 90 percent.
High school principal Philip Scotto explained that the effort began by identifying “at-risk” students. “These are students who were at risk of not graduating by only one or two credits,” Scotto said. “Or one Regents exam. So we knew they were close. We had to do something to get them to the edge.” Scotto and his team of assistant principals met one-on-one with each of those students — 60 for the 2016-2017 school year — and their guidance counselors.
Regents prep classes allowed students to work towards a passing grade, and a Saturday program was implemented for credit recovery and made-up work. “That program ran for three weeks and we had about 20 kids each week,” Scotto said. “These were kids who needed to make up work due to their work schedules or not having a computer at home.”
The Floyd Academy, established last year, is another factor that raised the overall graduation rate. With the motto “Everyone Succeeds,” the academy serves 85 students in grades 10-12 and isn’t the kind of alternative school meant to be punitive. “There are many different types of students who go there,” said Albert Peterson, director of student information and secondary education. Peterson noted that some students struggled with chronic absences or the traditional school day. “We have every walk of life up there, students who are extremely intelligent and students who have struggled and not had great experiences from kindergarten to ninth grade,” Peterson said. “And they’re successful in the academy.”
Scotto noted that the students’ success was also based on the constant support offered by teachers and leadership. “They had the resources,” he said. “This place is huge and not every kid fits in. Some need a more intimate environment.”
As the new school year began earlier this week, the high school also launched their Freshman Academy. Including the entirety of the freshman class — nearly 700 students this year — Scotto explained that the program seeks to ease the transition from two middle schools into a large high school. “We’re keeping the ninth-grade classes in one section of the building, painted the hallways ‘Floyd green’ and established a separate entrance to come into the building,” he said, adding that the entrance was made to hopefully cut down on lateness and other hallway distractions. “It can be a tough transition, so we hope to foster all the support they need,” Scotto said.
Coster is wowed by the positivity that has ensued. “The kids knew the expectations and they stepped up,” he said. “And I’m not just talking about students who were off to a four-year college or the military. It was all of our students.” According to Coster, the district has always had standout students. “We never had a problem getting kids into Ivy Leagues, but our graduation rate was also perennially in the 70s. We feel like we have a good formula now,” he said.
Part of that formula includes changing the culture regarding post-graduation plans. “We started to acknowledge that the typical college diploma is not for everybody,” Scotto said. “Which is why we have different pathways. We have a thriving CTE program with classes in automotive, medical assistant, culinary, carpentry. In those classes, students are getting certified in those areas and they can go out and get jobs in their field immediately.” The district will also expand CTE programs this year, offering courses in small-engine repair and barbering.
“We saw the students’ skills and built that outlet for them,” Scotto said. “And now some of our most disenfranchised students have found a reason to come to school.”