Palotti discusses 83% graduation, says goal is 100%

HORNELL — The Hornell City School District’s most recent graduation rate is 83 percent, according to New York State Education Department data.

The 83 percent represents the graduation rate for the September 2014 ninth-grade cohort that met all requirements by June 2018. The state average for the 2014-18 cohort was 80.2 percent while Steuben County public schools had a graduation rate of 87 percent out of an enrollment of 1,253 students, according to the department of education.

Hornell’s graduation rate for the previous cohort — 2013-17 — was 82 percent, according to the state.

Here's a look inside Hornell’s data for the 2014-18 cohort:

Enrollment: 163

Graduation percent: 83% (135 students)

Regents Diploma: 41% (67 students)

Advanced Regents percent: 29% (48 students)

Dropout percent: 3% (5 students)

Four Hornell students became summer graduates after completing their degree requirements in August. When those students are included, the district’s graduation rate rises to 85 percent.

Four years ago, in 2014, Hornell's graduation rate was 69 percent with a ten percent dropout percentage.

The Spectator asked Jeremy P. Palotti, Hornell school superintendent, about the district’s goals for graduation and dropout rates, the school’s plan for improvement and the relevance of this specific data when measuring the effectiveness of the school system.

Palotti provided written responses to the newspaper’s questions. He wrote that graduation rates are a good place to begin, not end, when educators look deep into a school system’s programs.

“As far as how we view these numbers — they certainly are important, but they are not the end-all, be-all,” he stressed. “They represent one piece of data, one mark from a number of years in time. This number can also be misleading, which is why we are careful when evaluating it. When looking at school data, it is important to use these data as the starting point for your inquiry in terms of identifying if something is going well or needs attention.

“As far as goals go, we would always be selling ourselves short if we didn't strive to have (zero) dropouts,” Palotti answered. “Our goal should and will always be to have all students graduate because we know what a difference it makes for life outside of high school to have a diploma as opposed to not. The district is engaged in a process of continuous improvement that is focused on the entire district.”

Palotti said last year’s Needs Assessment was designed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Hornell school system.

He said, “Our focus areas that resulted from this work are in the areas of consistent and supported curriculum and instruction, a focus on post secondary skills — ensuring kids have options and the skills sets to succeed after school, and having a safe and positive learning environment.

“All of these pieces form the umbrella for all the work we are doing Pre-K-12. This work involves starting our own pre-K program, enhancements to our ELA curriculum with a focus on reading and writing, aligned instruction with detailed and outlined scope and sequence for all secondary classes, creating classroom (and school) environments that are safe and conducive for learning, and lastly focusing program and instruction on that which will give children choices in paths to take outside of high school.”

Palotti, who was named district superintendent in May 2017, wrote that he believes the right policies are being put in place.

“We are proud of the direction we are moving and do believe we are on the path towards even better results,” he said. “As educators, we are never finished and always striving to improve. If dropouts decrease from 3 percent to 1 percent, we will be happy with our progress but will never be satisfied until we reach zero percent. When we get to that, we will push harder for a higher mastery rate. We always want more for our kids. It is the pursuit of an educator knowing that our work is never done.”