When it comes to graduation rates in New Haven – the Cooperative High School and the Sound School are tops – with graduation rates over 90 percent in 2012, according to data provided by the New Haven Public Schools.
Overall the city’s high school graduation rate increased six percentage points to 70.5 percent in 2012, the data shows. And at the same time the dropout rate fell by 4.2 percentage points to 21 percent, according to the data.
The graduation rate at Wilbur Cross High School improved the most by 10 percentage points in just one year from 60 percent to 70 percent. For the past 5 years graduation rates at the Sound School have remained steady — hovering around 90 percent each year.
To improve graduation rates New Haven school officials launched a three-fold plan in 2009. The plan, called School Change, promotes a college-going culture in school and encourages students to stay in school and attend college.
Sound School Principal Rebecca Gratz said, “There are many factors that keep our graduation and student success rates high… We work collaboratively to support student learning and academic success. Everything we do is based on the belief that all students can achieve at high levels given the tools and support they need.”
Gratz said, “Our students want to be at the Sound School and have made a commitment to taking part in the curricular and extra-curricular activities that make our school different. Students are expected to participate in after-school programs, which are added to their report cards each marking period. They enjoy these activities and sometimes these are the very reasons they continue to succeed academically – they know if they don’t complete their academic requirements, they will not be able to participate in the after school activities.’’
About one-half of each school day at Sound is spent either in the shops, the labs, on the water, or in the greenhouse, which are all of high interest to students, explained Gratz.
“One of our guiding principles is that of engagement,’’ said Gratz. “If students are engaged in school and if teachers build on that engagement and allow for student interest, voice, and choice, they are much more likely to perform at high levels and stay in school.’’
The Sound School has adopted the philosophy of “no casualties.’’ Students are given the opportunity to get extra help from a teacher, go to the student services center, work in the library, meet with peers and have tutoring, explained Gratz.
The Sound School, like others in New Haven, has an Academic Probation system. Students who fail one or more class in a quarter are required to attend after the after-school homework center one day each week until they achieve a passing grade. And parents are contacted, according to Gratz.
New Haven’s School Change includes bringing together teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, and community leaders to work collaboratively on programs and projects. The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Yale University, and Yale-New Haven Hospital are among the community partners participating.
The New Haven Promise scholarship provides students money for college and is a ‘’motivator’’ for students to stay in school, school officials said.
On the city’s overall graduation rates, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said recently, “ For the fourth year in a row we have seen New Haven Public School’s graduation rate rise.’’
“What we are seeing is not an anomaly; what we are seeing are the early results of our nationally acclaimed school change efforts,’’ said DeStefano, at a press conference earlier this year.
Tiara McFadden is a sophomore at Achievement First Amistad High School, New Haven.