ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- New statistics released by the New York State Department of Education reveal the Rochester City School District is the only district in New York's so-called "Big 5" city districts to graduate less than half of its students in June 2016.

The numbers show only 47.5 percent of students who entered 9th grade in 2012, graduated in June 2016. That number is up 2 percent from a year earlier when 45 percent of students graduated from the district. The statistics also show August 2016 graduation rates jumped 2 percent to 53 percent.

When RCSD Board of Education president Van White was first sworn onto the board in 2007, he said the district’s graduation rate was 39 percent. While he said the recent increase is good, it’s not good enough

“Some degree of acknowledgement that we’ve made some progress quickly dissipates when you think about the young people on the other side of that,” White said.

That statement was echoed by Rochester Teacher’s Association President Adam Urbanski. He said he believes graduation rates will continue to increase under the new leadership of Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams.

“I’ve heard the superintendent speak rather compellingly about adding substantial number of reading teachers, which we don’t have in our district, about providing social, emotional, and mental health services for students who need those services, but aren’t receiving those services,” Urbanski said. “That’s a huge impediment to learning. So increasing children’s readiness for learning, if you coupled it with improving our schools and greater parental involvement, I think that’s the recipe for better performance.”

In a statement, Deane-Williams agreed while the increase offers encouragement, it's still not enough. She wrote in part,

"Equity demands that we take immediate action to provide our schools the necessary resources to accelerate progress until we achieve a 100 percent graduation rate."

She added the district has implemented new data tools to track student's progress and established four teams of educators to strengthen partnerships between principals, teachers, and the district office. 

White said besides Deane-Williams new leadership and tracking students’ progress, he believes University of Rochester’s take-over of East High School will also show improvement in overall graduation rates. East High School was the largest high school and had the lowest graduation rate in the district at 42 percent before the take-over. He added SUNY-Geneseo also recently opened an Educational Partnership Organization at the elementary level.

“Research tells us that if a child is not reading at proficiency level at third grade, he or she is not going to graduate on time,” White said. “So this stuff is predictable. So we have to begin to work earlier than ninth grade.”

While parent Denise Seymour said she has seen improvement in the past few years, she wants to see the district find ways to get parents more involved. One specific instance she said is parent-teacher conferences.  

“That’s one thing I don’t like at the parent conferences, that there’s not a lot of parents that show up, which you can catch things,” Seymour said. “My son was struggling in some areas and because we were at the parents’ conference we were able to grab it and now he’s a 3.0.”

White and Urbanski also point out another issue facing our young students is Rochester ranks highest in child poverty rates among the “Big 5” city districts.

RCSD’s 2 percent increase in graduation rates in June 2016 was the smallest increase among the “Big 5.”  

In comparison, 60.9 percent of students in the Syracuse City School District graduated in 2016 and 61.7 in Buffalo city schools.

As a whole, nearly 80 percent of students earned a diploma statewide, up a little more than 1 percent from a year earlier.  

Read Deane-Williams statement in its entirety below:

"Rochester’s four-year graduation rate was 47.5% in June and 53% in August, both up 2% from 2015, according to data released today by the New York State Education Department. The graduation rate increased 5.1% for Hispanic students and 1.8% for Black students compared to the previous year. For students with disabilities, the June graduation is up 1% from last year at 27.4%, continuing a five-year improvement trend from 16.4% in 2012.

These modest increases offer signs of encouragement, but we cannot hide the fact that too few of our children are crossing the stage, and Rochester graduation rates have remained unacceptably low for entirely too long. Equity demands that we take immediate action to provide our schools the necessary resources to accelerate progress until we achieve a 100 percent graduation rate.

This year we have developed new data tools that make it easier for school administrators to track student progress in real time. That supports our goal to help school teams know every student by face and name, assess their achievement every five weeks and customize the support each student receives to help them stay on track.

To make the District office more effective in supporting school improvement, we have established four teams of educators—called Teaching and Learning School Partnership and Support Teams—with a goal to visit every classroom in every school during the second semester. Their role is to learn about bright spots that can serve as models for other schools and classrooms, and to identify ways in which Central Office can provide better support. The teams will strengthen partnerships between Principals, teachers and District office. For example, the team serving secondary schools will provide counseling services to help review transcripts and monitor student progress toward on-time graduation.  

These are two of the many steps we intend to take that have helped other high-poverty districts across the country to create higher-performing schools. Working in collaboration with our staff members, families and community partners, our District is committed to providing the support each student needs to succeed at every grade level, to and through graduation."