For several years our long-range strategic plan has had the goal to increase the graduation rate, especially for our economically disadvantaged students. Our poverty rate is close to 50% overall in the Tonawanda City School District and over the past few years our graduation rate has been between 80 - 83% overall. The strategic plan committee identified four root causes for the poor graduation rate:
Read below how the Tonawanda City School District focused on these four root causes to increase the graduation rate over the last four years from 81% to 91%.
Student Absenteeism: Of course, when students are not here they cannot learn. They are missing valuable instruction from the instructor. To help reduce student absenteeism, attendance data is reviewed often by administrators and counselors/social workers. When chronic absenteeism is a problem for students, home visits are conducted by our School Resource Officer, counselors, social workers, and even administrators. Parent conferences are held with the child present, so attendance issues can be addressed.
Student Report Card Grades: One of the biggest factors for students dropping out of school is student grades. If a student gets too far behind early on in the school year, then he/she might give up and fall further behind. Counselors and teachers are identifying struggling students much earlier in the school year and developing a Response to Intervention Plan (RtI) for them. Goals are set, extra help is offered and student mentors are available to help the struggling student.
Non-Involvement in Extra-Curricular Activities: When students are involved in activities after school they are less likely to get involved in situations that may end up being harmful to them. A faculty mentor/student mentee program has been established where a faculty member identifies a student who is at-risk of not graduating and works with them to identify interests and hopefully get the student involved in one of our many clubs and athletic teams.
Suspension Rate is High for Economically Disadvantaged Students: A positive school climate helps students to feel accepted and not looked down upon. The Olweus antibullying program has been implemented and bi-weekly class meetings have been running in the middle school by teachers who have been trained in the Olweus program. The Warrior Way initiative that focuses on Random Acts of Kindness as well as the teacher student/mentor program has helped students who may feel disenfranchised to make a positive connection in school, so their behavior will not lead to suspension.
This graduation rate increase is due to our excellent staff and parents, and of course, the students who are not giving up and are walking across the stage in June proud of this once impossible dream for some of them. Our goal is to get all of our students to graduate and graduate on time. We will strive to develop more initiatives to help reach even more students. I am confident that our graduation rate will continue to increase.