Getting grades up

Lawrence is developing more programs to help its students improve


Raising its graduation rate, increasing the number of Regents diplomas with distinction and reaching students who lack a strong educational foundation and English language proficiency are the primary goals of new plans unveiled by Lawrence School District officials at a special board meeting on Monday.

Seventy-five percent of the 252 members of the Lawrence High School class of 2012 graduated on time, at the end of the school year last June. The graduation rate jumps to 91 percent when August 2012 graduates and GED earners are included. Nine percent of the class — 23 students — remain non-graduates. Of the 266 students in the class of 2013, 243 graduated in June, 20 are currently non-grads and three are repeating their senior year.

The non-graduates include immigrant Spanish-speakers who entered the district lacking the educational background to be successful students, according to school officials, who say that these pupils have had their education interrupted for a variety of reasons. “We have a growing number of students that are alone — no guardian, no parent,” said Veronica Ortiz, a Lawrence High guidance counselor and a child advocate at the Five Towns Community Center who acts as a liaison between the school district and its Hispanic community. “They’re fending for themselves and worry about adult problems such as rent and clothes. As a young adult, these are problems you shouldn’t have to think about.”

To help failing students succeed, Lawrence will implement a quarterly review of students who fail two or more classes. “We will look at the issues facing those students and contributing to their performance,” said the high school’s principal, Dr. Jennifer Lagnado. “If they’re not at grade level, we’ll offer other programs to help them catch up.”

In addition to current services which include mentoring, the weekend academic academy, after-school classes and summer school, the district will also develop evening programs for Regents Review and GED, establish improved welcoming procedures for new students, conduct skill assessments and create individual education plans.

Middle School Principal Willis Perry helped to revive a student retention policy that was not being enforced. Eighth- and ninth-graders who fail two English Language Arts, math, science or social studies classes are required to attend summer school. Having to repeat the year is considered on a case-by-case basis.

Perry recounted asking one student how he was doing, and the student replied, “OK. I’m only failing four classes” — which for that student was better than the previous school year, Perry said. “If we don’t put something in place, it will be a continuing pattern when they get to high school,” he said, adding that some students think that something magical happens when they get to high school that will make them successful. The two-failures policy will also be implemented for fourth- and fifth-graders this coming school year. According to Superintendent Gary Schall the policy is targeting the transition grades from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school.

Through state and federal grants, the district has also implemented an academic recovery program, in which students can take online courses to make up for classes they fail. A $265,000 State Education Department grant is paying for summer school this year that is being attended by 300 students, according to Schall.

Some of those who are attending summer school do well enough to earn grades in the 80s, but are not earning Regents diplomas with distinction. Only 30.5 percent of the 2012 seniors earned that honor, compared with 59.5 percent in Hewlett-Woodmere.

Those students will be pushed toward a more intensive “college-ready” track, which aligns with the implementation of the Common Core Standards, according to Dr. Ann Pedersen, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction and the principal of the Number Two School. The Common Core Standards are a set of educational requirements agreed on by the State Education Department that students must attain.

District educators will also have to improve as the teacher evaluation system known as APPR — Annual Professional Performance Review — is implemented. Peder-sen said that teachers and administrators are being trained at a level that will “better student performance.”

Newly installed Board of Education President Dr. David Sussman, speaking for the trustees, said overall student academic performance must improve. “We are not pleased with the results we are getting,” he said. “We have to get better results.”