Smaller schools have higher graduation rates

Now that graduation season has drawn to a close, Chautauqua County graduates may not realize how they set the bar for advancing students.

A four-year analysis of graduation rates from 2010-2013 revealed many statistics, but one remained constant over time – Chautauqua County’s smaller schools boasted a higher percentage of graduates.

For example, Sherman Central School had a consistently high graduation rate over the course of the analysis, with a rate of 93.8 percent for the Class of 2013.

Superintendent Kaine Kelly said in Sherman’s case, it’s due to the strong bonds formed between teachers and students over time.

“Teachers recognize changes in students and know when they’re struggling because they’ve known them for so long,” Kelly said. “When you have a kid who is at risk to drop out, small schools – Sherman in particular – are good at recognizing the danger of failing and responding to intervene and help them out.”

Sherman also fell into a group of schools with impressive rates for students graduating with a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation at an average rate of 40 percent of each class over the course of four years. Bemus Point, Clymer, Falconer, Fredonia, Southwestern and Westfield school districts all had averages of 40 percent or higher as well.

“We have an incredibly dedicated staff that is hard working and goes above and beyond to meet the needs of kids and we have an administration that puts kids first,” Kelly continued. “We have a community that values education and values the school’s place in the community. Put all of those things together and everyone’s on the same page and working toward the same goal, which is success.”

Outgoing Forestville Superintendent Chuck Leichner had similar views to Kelly.

“I think that smaller schools typically have higher graduation rates because of the ability to focus on individual students more easily,” he said. “That doesn’t mean larger schools aren’t working as hard or that the children aren’t as capable. I think it boils down to the amount of attention that a small district might be able to focus on a handful of children that are at risk.”

In addition to the success of small schools, economically disadvantaged students graduated at a lower rate than non-economically disadvantaged youth in all Chautauqua County districts.

“There are a host of things that circle around that statistic that make it a complex issue,” Leichner said. “We expect kids to be prepared when they leave here, regardless.”

Dunkirk and Jamestown high schools had graduation rates of 68 percent last year, topping Salamanca by 9 percent.

While Jamestown ranks low in graduation rates, the category of students receiving a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation was high.

“We do offer the largest number of high level classes, college credit classes and Advanced Placement classes,” Jamestown Superintendent Tim Mains said. “We’ve done what we can to increase the menu of rigorous options for kids, and we encourage kids to try and challenge those more difficult courses. We also try to make sure we have people teaching them that are skilled in making that accomplishment possible.”

In Jamestown, 17.8 percent of dropouts were considered economically disadvantaged. A higher percentage of dropouts were considered not-poor. The statistic was also true for Pine Valley, Salamanca, Sherman, Cattaraugus/Little Valley and Frewsburg districts.

Jamestown High School also had a higher graduation rate for African American students than white students.

“Race has largely not been an issue in terms of the racial divide you see in many schools around the country,” Mains said. “It does not show up in our statistics. The challenge is if you’re economically disadvantaged, a second-language learner or classified with a learning disability; those three things become much larger barriers.”

In terms of reaching out to students early on, Mains said one of the goals in the district is to identify academic challenges for students earlier and more specifically.

“When someone isn’t doing well, it’s not good enough to say ‘They’re having trouble.’ We need to know where they’re having trouble, what they’re having trouble with and why,” he said.

Seeing as how Jamestown High School teachers don’t have the opportunity to know students for their entire academic careers, a program has been developed to help bridge the gap between middle and high school.

“We know freshmen come in feel a little intimidated, and we are trying to provide an opportunity called ‘Freshman Bridge,’ which is offered at the end of the day for teachers to meet with freshmen in smaller groups and get them some information,” Mains said. “That was a piece we did but I think doing a better analysis of hard data will be our path to success.”

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