Year over year, graduation rates at Johnston Senior High School have significantly improved and have jumped by nearly 10 percent.
According to Johnston High School Principal Dennis Morrell, now in his second year as leader of the school, yearly reports for the June graduating class are submitted to the Rhode Island Department of Education following graduation. The school tracks their students based on their cohort – a term used for the graduating class based on the first year that the students come into the high school beginning in grade 9.
The graduation rate for the class of 2017 in Johnston was 85.3 percent. For the class of 2018, however, the graduation rate went up to 94.2 percent, the highest graduation rate the school has ever experienced.
“One of the first things we tackled as an administrative team was attendance, and we’re still tackling attendance. Kids can’t learn if they’re not in school,” said Morrell. “That’s one of the indicators that we’re judged on, too. There’s this new school rating system being used and one of the indicators is attendance. If we have students that are chronically absent it works against us.”
Along with attendance, Morell and his administrative team, including Vice Principals Dr. Donna Pennacchia and Michael Mancieri, addressed course offerings and programs and adjusted curriculum as well.
“We listened to what the students wanted,” said Morrell, who added that pathways, courses, programs and learning opportunities offered by the school that are geared towards learning about a particular profession or area of interest, have encouraged kids to stay in school.
In addition, Morrell credits the school’s improved summer school program, which has been successful in getting students where they need to be when they need to be there.
“We also really started with parental contact early. There was a lot of communication with those at a student’s home,” said Morrell, who added that the school has become “relentless” in talking and meeting with parents. “We’ve opened up the pipeline of communication where each administrator will attend what’s called the “senior meetings,” where we call meeting with the parents and guidance councilors starting in October. We’re getting involved in meetings, contacting parents, working with the teachers and getting the kids the services that they need. ”
Pennacchia said that transparency with parents and families by opening up programs used to track a child’s performance has also gone a long way towards improved results.
“We’ve opened up the Aspen portal to the parents and students, which has helped a lot, because now the kids can police themselves and keep up with how they’re doing, and the parents can, too,” said Pennacchia.
Improvements were also seen in the graduation rates for special education students, from 76.5 percent to 81.5 percent. Pennacchia and Morrell felt that the current graduation rate is sustainable and may be able to increase a little more.
“It’s on the upswing, it really is,” said Morrell. “Now the tough part comes: sustaining it.”
Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr. was pleased with the district’s results.
“The high school is making great strides, they really are, even with the SAT and PSAT exams. We’re encouraged with the outcomes,” said DiLullo. “We’re seeing improvement in English, reading, writing and math.”
DiLullo said that the graduation rates were improved by program offerings, and a credit recovery program that allowed students who’ve fallen behind to put in the time to make up those credits.
“It’s a team effort. Not only is it the administrators but it’s also the teachers,” said DiLullo. “Obviously, the administrators put a lot of things into place, and we need the teachers to support those initiatives. The teachers are very focused on the student’s success at the high school, and I think we’re seeing the outcome of that.”