Yonkers, Hudson Valley tout graduation rates

A file photo of a teacher in a A file photo of a teacher in a classroom. (June 16, 2006) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Yonkers Public Schools outpaced the state's other big cities in the 2011 high school graduation rates released Monday, and the Hudson Valley bested the statewide average.

Yonkers' graduation rate improved 3 percentage points -- to 66.2 percent -- among June 2011 graduates, significantly higher than New York City's rate of 60.9 percent.

"This achievement is a testament to our outstanding educators, driven staff, supportive families and, most importantly, dedicated students," Yonkers Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio said.

Meanwhile the six-county Hudson Valley region fared significantly better than the state as a whole, with an 84 percent average graduation rate that was unchanged from the previous school year. That compares with a 74 percent rate statewide, up slightly from the previous rate of 73.4 percent.

State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch used the release of the data to talk about the board's reform agenda.

"These numbers make clear that we need to continue to pursue aggressive reforms in our schools, including a new, richer curriculum and implementation of the new teacher evaluation law in districts across the state," Tisch said.

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Tisch's view has met opposition in the Hudson Valley, where many school districts are outperforming state averages by wide margins.

Yesterday, Hudson Valley leaders bristled at what they call a one-size-fits-all approach.

"Why anyone would think that reforms that might help one set of schools facing one set of challenges would be appropriate for another set of schools entirely escapes my understanding," said Superintendent Michael McGill of Scarsdale Public Schools, where 99 percent of high school students graduated in 2011.

McGill has called for less standardized testing and opposes the state's teacher evaluation system.

Tuckahoe Superintendent Edward Reilly, whose high school graduated every student in 2011, said successful schools should be exempted from some mandates and reforms.

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"One of the things that they're not saying to districts that are successful is 'just keep doing what you're doing,'" Reilly said. "They're saying now that everybody has to make major new curriculum revisions, all of which ost time and money, which we do not receive."

Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES Superintendent James Langlois said that the region shows higher graduation rates because Hudson Valley communities demand success and have the resources to pay the bills.

"It really has an awful lot to do with socioeconomic factors. More money gets put into schools, which results in higher-quality teachers and better programs," Langlois said. "The challenge for the state is how to make that happen for all kids. Too much reform ignores how much there is a need for addressing the issues of poverty."

A glance at the Hudson Valley's top and bottom 10 schools -- ranked by graduation rates -- shows those in more affluent communities graduating virtually every student. Meanwhile, urban school districts with higher poverty rates show graduation rates between 53 and 71 percent.

The state Board of Regents is targeting the so-called "achievement gap" between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds with its programs.

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In the release Monday, the department noted that the overall graduation rate for black and Hispanic students still lags 27 percentage points behind that of white students.

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