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April 2013 Vol. 20 No. 5 Focus on Getting to Graduation

Paying attention to 9th graders

Photo: Harvey Finkle

Freshmen (from left) Jimik Ligon, Nychelle Hamiel, and Tyreek Bookard confer between classes at Mastery-Gratz High School. The students said that they appreciate the personal attention they get in the school’s self-contained 9th-grade academy. “They give us a lot of opportunities,” said Hamiel, who is in the honors program.

By by Dale Mezzacappa

Philadelphia’s graduation rate continues to improve, yet only about two-thirds of students who start 9th grade in public schools get a diploma four years later. 

As the Notebook does its eighth annual edition focusing on the city’s dropout crisis, this is both encouraging and sobering news.

Encouraging because the gains are slow and steady, which makes it more likely that they are real, said Ruth Curran Neild, lead author of Unfulfilled Promise, the 2006 report that first offered hard data and highlighted the depth of the problem in Philadelphia.

But sobering because there are entrenched issues that the city’s educational leaders have yet to conquer. One of those is 9th grade, still where most dropouts run aground.

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Olney’s approach: Strict discipline, personal attention

By by Connie Langland

Sandwiches piled high on a platter, a fresh vegetable tray, pizza, sodas, cake – all for nine young people, most with Latino surnames, most male, who were the center of attention on a recent day at Olney Charter High School.

Their achievement: showing up.

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On-time graduation rate has climbed 20 points in a decade

By by Paul Socolar

The School District’s on-time graduation rate has continued on its upward trend. For a second year in a row, it climbed three percentage points last year – to 64 percent. That figure tells the percentage of students entering 9th grade in fall 2008 who finished high school by 2012.

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9th grade is still where most fall off track

By by Paul Jablow

Sheila Hernandez was 15 when she quit Frankford High School in the 9th grade. There was a lot of fighting in the school, and Hernandez, a slight girl with her hair cut short, was also bullied over her appearance.

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Engaging students in an age of austere budgets

By by Bill Hangley Jr.

Comprehensive neighborhood high schools across the nation struggle with dropout prevention, and Philadelphia’s are no different. 

 “What you see in that research is that these schools tend to have a higher concentration of really at-risk kids,” said Kate Shaw, executive director of Research for Action. 

“In part because of that, the percentage of kids who graduate is much lower.”

And although principals at a handful of neighborhood high schools – Roxborough, George Washington, Germantown and Ben Franklin – said that helpful strategies aren’t hard to identify, most also acknowledged that implementing changes in an age of budget cuts, staff turnover, and districtwide strategic shifts is a constant challenge.

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