Waterbury High School’s Graduation Rate Improves

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Sylvester Curry dropped out of Kennedy High School in Waterbury in 2015 at age 17. Now he looks back and wishes that the school system had helped him succeed rather than holding him back two grades.

Talia Bairstow

Talia Bairstow

“I dropped out because I became of age and wanted to just get my GED instead of staying in school for extra years,” Curry said. “The city could have helped me beforehand with improving my grades and [given] me more opportunity to stay on track instead of making me stay back.”

Curry is one of many Waterbury students who never crossed the stage at graduation.

The school system had a 69.2 percent graduation rate in 2014-2015, compared to 75.3 in New Haven, according to Edsight.ct.gov, a state education database, and information provided by school officials. Waterbury’s graduation rate has increased over the past four years from 62.6 percent in 2011-2012.

“As you can see Waterbury is improving,” Felix Rodriguez, vice president of the Waterbury Board of Education, said.

The school system is taking several steps to reduce the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate, Elizabeth Brown, president of the Waterbury Board of Education, said.

“We have spent about $20 million for reform to help hire more support staff such as social workers and education coaches,” she said.

Rodriguez said a new student management system is going to be purchased and that will help streamline student pathways and records.

Brown said Waterbury has received additional funding as one of the state’s struggling “alliance districts.” This year is Brown’s first year as president of Waterbury’s school board after serving as a board member the previous four years.

“The superintendent and I had entered the system at the same time,” she said. “We both have worked on a complete overhaul of the system, including teacher evaluations.”

Rodriguez said that New Haven has about a dozen more magnet schools than Waterbury.

“Having that capacity and resources, Waterbury’s graduation rate will probably always lag behind those bigger cities,” he said. “In addition to the number of magnet schools, other cities have been better at securing funding to improve graduation rates.”

Budgeting and funding definitely plays a role in graduation rates, Rodriguez said.

“Waterbury is the most underfunded town/city, according to the [Education Cost Sharing] formula, in terms of dollar amounts in the state of Connecticut,” Rodriguez said.

One of the other new initiatives is working more closely with families to identify struggling students, Brown said.

“We are looking at [the] root causes of student absences,” Brown said. Waterbury schools are also cutting back on suspensions.

“We have realized that graduation rates are low because students aren’t attending school,” she said.

According to Brown, each school in Waterbury has a data team.

“Now teachers can develop lesson plans together,” Brown said.

Waterbury schools have an online program for students to retrieve credits if they fail classes, Brown said.

“There was really no support system before,” Brown said.

Waterbury is using a system created in Washington state to closely track students.

“Guidance is working closely with local higher education (NVCC and UCONN Waterbury),” Rodriguez said.

“We are understanding a lot of our kids have been exposed to violence,” Brown said. “Our schools are using social worker perspectives to communicate with students.”

Brown said she hopes the new support systems will improve Waterbury’s graduation rates.

In comparison, New Haven’s graduation rate has remained relatively steady at about 75 percent for three years.

“The graduation rate in New Haven for the 2014-2015 school year was 75.1 percent,” Mercy Quaye, a spokeswoman for the New Haven public schools, said.

New Haven is doing what it can to maintain and improve that rate, she said.

“New Haven is a city of opportunity and our teachers and staff are doing what they can to make sure our students succeed,” Quaye said. “Our plan is to continue to engage with students, families, and our community and target opportunities for growth and build on our successes.”

School Year Crosby High School graduation rates Kennedy High School graduation rates Wilby High School graduation rates WAMS (Magnet school) graduation rates District graduation rates
2011-2012 60.2% 64.9% 63.1% 95.3% 62.6%
2012-2013 65.2% 69.4% 72.2% 86.8% 66.5%
2013-2014 72.0% 67.7% 65.8% 96.7% 67.9%
2014-2015 69.7% 70.65 65.8% 93.3% 69.2%


Waterbury School Kennedy Crosby Wilby
Female Rate 2014-2015 71.2% 73.9% 75.1%
Male Rate 2014-2015 70% 65.6% 66.7%

Talia Bairstow is a student at John F. Kennedy High School, Waterbury.

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