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BOE Considers Polaris Change

The school board is slated to vote on a policy that would change Polaris from a school to a program.

The graduation rates of students at would be rolled into those at their home schools should the  decide to change the status of the school.

The board is expected to vote at its meeting on Thursday night to delete a board policy regarding Polaris, changing it from a school to a program, which means the school system won’t be required to report its graduates separately from their home schools. Under , the graduation rate at Polaris will drop from 32.8 percent to 18.46 percent.

Superintendent Frank Petruzielo said during a first reading on the item that with an 18 percent graduation rate, Polaris could be viewed by the public as a failure. But, that’s not the case since it’s a non-traditional high school, Petruzielo said.

“They work during the day, and they study at night,” the superintendent said. “They have other critical needs they need to meet. Instead of celebrating, people look at the 18 percent graduation rate and decide this must be a place where (the school system) dumps failures.”

The change won’t affect the school district’s overall graduation rate, under the new standards. The graduation rates for the Polaris students will just be included in the rates at their home schools. Polaris provides an opportunity for students who might have otherwise dropped out to get a diploma but the program is being evaluated on how its students are taking longer to finish rather than its ultimate success, Petruzielo said.

“In , most people recognize the value of having a night high school,” the superintendent said.

In 2011, four students graduated from Polaris.

“It took them seven years, but that’s a success story,” said Brian Hightower, assistant superintendent for school operations.

However, Petruzielo said that Polaris has been “subject to inequities” as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act and Adequate Yearly Progress.

“Instead of being lauded for preventing hundreds of students from dropping out of school, Polaris annually has been labeled a Needs Improvement school because No Child Left Behind measures high schools, in part, via a one-size-fits-all definition of graduation rate, making no concessions or allowances for alternative definitions of success outside the scope of the traditional high school experience and timeframe,” Petruzielo said in an email. “Therefore, the official graduation rate at Polaris appears much lower than traditional high schools. However, every student graduating from Polaris represents another student who, in all likelihood, would not have graduated at all, without this option.”

School district officials said that graduation rates have changed dramatically since the formula has changed, although they say the new “cohort” rates provide a more accurate picture of the percentage of students who graduate in four years. The new graduation rule requires more science and the new math curriculum, which requires students struggling in math to take support classes. Those changes make it more difficult for students to complete the number of units required for graduation.

Additionally, special education students who graduate in five or six years are no longer counted in the graduation rate, and students who move out of state and don’t provide documentation within a certain time frame are now considered dropouts.

The BOE meets Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the school board auditorium at the historic Canton High School.

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