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Syracuse City School District sees significant gains in graduation rates

Calvin Milliner/WAER
People walk into the entrance of Fowler High School, Feb. 17, 2022.

The remarkable rise in Syracuse City School District high school graduation rates can have an impact on city students’ and families’ futures according to education experts. Syracuse University professor of educational leadership George Theoharis remembered graduation success was under 50% in the city when he came here 18 years ago.

“I mean in these times if we are seeing authentic growth with kids’ outcome that should be celebrated. It means, during these hard times, the kids and their families and their teachers and staff, have found a way to make schoolwork that perhaps wasn’t working a few years ago. That’s really interesting considering all the problems around Covid and attendance and connecting with kids.”

Graduation rates have been on the rise for the past three years. This Wednesday, the district released 2021 graduation rates that rose to 77%. The 2016 cohort of students had a graduation rate of 70.7%. Among Black students in the most recent 2017 cohort, the graduation rate was 80%. Theoharis found that last statistic impactful.

“In particular, the graduation rates for students of color in Syracuse have been a real problem. Way below the state average. And so, this kind of change means more students of color have a high school diploma. The particularly important thing, If they have the skills they need to go on and have a rich and thriving future.”

He noted some of the success might be related to removing the requirement of regents’ exams. But he finds the rising rates surprising, given what students and educators have been through the last two years.

We have to understand that change in graduation rate in the context of this pandemic that’s been the heart of the system that we know is hard on kids and family. It’s too hard to make sense of these things at the same time. Maybe we’ve learned some things, maybe we are doing some things better, maybe were eliminating smoke barriers, maybe we are seeing some kids differently because some of it's virtual. There are fewer behavior problems than there are in the classroom.”

Syracuse Superintendent Jaime Alicea praised teachers for adjusting the curriculum to meet the needs of online and hybrid learning last year. But he added students still had to have the same 22 class credits to graduate. Theoharis said he hoped the students who graduate not only have their diplomas but are also prepared for what’s next.