Boosting graduation rates

February 13, 2017
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Exterior of the Observer-Reporter building in Washington.

John D. Rockefeller did not get a high school diploma.

Nor did Henry Ford, Robert DeNiro, Sidney Poitier or mega-mogul Richard Branson.

Today’s high schoolers should not consider emulating them for a second.

Sure, the likes of DeNiro and Poitier are exceptionally gifted, Branson is exceptionally savvy, and Ford and Rockefeller came into their own in a very different America than the one we know today. Remarkable talents and outstanding luck might have been enough for a select few to attain renown and riches a half-century or a century ago without a high school diploma.

Not anymore. Many employers today won’t even glance twice at an application from someone who does not have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Dropping out of high school is an almost certain path to drift and, potentially, destitution.

A story in Monday’s edition of the Observer-Reporter offered a mixed bag on the graduation rates of the 21 school districts in Washington and Greene counties and the Mon Valley.

Some good news: In the 2014-15 school year, the last year for which figures were available, 12 of those districts had graduation rates better than the Pennsylvania average of 84.75 percent. The leader of the region was the Peters Township district, which boasted a graduation rate of 98.32 percent. This should come as a surprise to no one, given the well-heeled demographics of the township.

Washington School District, on the other hand, saw only 71 percent of its students get a diploma in four years, though that is a marked improvement over the 2011-12 school year, when only 62 percent of students received a diploma in four years. The news was also not that salutary for Carmichaels Area School District, which has seen graduation rates steadily decline from 89 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 77 percent in 2014-15.

Fortunately, officials in the Carmichaels district recognize the problem and are working to ameliorate it through changes in attendance policies that emphasize students being in school and getting there on time. They also are staging interventions with students who appear to be at risk of dropping out, and are allowing students to come back for a fifth year so they can get the credits they need to graduate.

Washington’s school district is also attacking the problem on a number of fronts. They have a cyberschool that lets students finish their degree on a flexible basis. The district also has a work-study program for students who need to go to work for part of the day and classes that focus on areas where students need assistance.

Then, there’s a tough-love approach being offered by the Central Greene district. Students who appear to be stumbling toward dropping out are told that they will have a much harder row to hoe without a high school diploma.

According to Brian Uplinger, Central Greene’s superintendent, “We are just being real with them. We are not sugar-coating anything.”

Nor should they. Doing without a high school diploma forecloses opportunities in life even before it really even gets underway.

Roberta DiLorenzo, the outgoing superintendent of Washington School District, explained it well: “The best foundation is a free, public education. It’s your springboard to your future.”

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