In 2006, William Floyd High School sported a graduation rate of 62 percent, less than two-thirds of students. Fast-forward to 2020 with the addition of
the Floyd Academy, the career and technical education program, and a wide
array of other major alterations, the district graduated 88.7 percent of the senior class in June. When summer school graduation came around in August, William Floyd reached a milestone of a 90 percent graduation rate.
“For the last five years, from the board of education to the building-level administration to district office to the teacher ranks, we have one committed goal [for] K-12, which is to get our kids walking across the stage with a high school diploma within their four-year cohort,” said Kevin Coster, superintendent of the district. Coster added that the goal could not have been reached if it was not for the unified belief among everyone within the district that it could be achieved.
“That was not the case five years ago. We have a leadership team that is highly committed, highly intelligent, and works well together. There is respect in the room. There is respect in the building. There is respect from the district office to the building, from the building offices and leadership to the classrooms, from the teachers to the kids,” Coster said.
Phil Scotto, principal of the high school, said that tackling the graduation rate at the high-school level has been a team effort, and includes assistant superintendent of secondary education and administration Kathleen Keane, as well as principal of the Floyd Academy, John DeBenedetto. Scotto explained that the most at-risk students are those deficient in credits, in need of extra attention, who have attendance issues, or a combination of them.
“So we already know who they are because one of our directors runs reports
and then earlier in the year, the guidance counselors and other support staff will sit in a room, divide up the names to the outfits and start making arrangements for those offices to make direct phone calls to these students. We also have them called down,” Scotto said, adding that the deans, assistant principals, the psychologist, and social workers are all involved. “We try to
hit every angle of support that these kids might need, and then we address that for the rest of the year. Sometimes we change their schedules, if we have to, to address our courses that they might need. We might assign extra courses for some of the students, and then we monitor them.”
The Floyd Academy is a newly designed alternative education program to help students succeed in a non-traditional school setting and provide them with an innovative and enriching learning experience. DeBenedetto stressed that students at Floyd Academy do not have “behavior problems.”
“These are students who are troubled in high school for various reasons,” he said. “Every student who comes to Floyd Academy has an individual graduation plan, and we look at it case-by-case.”
DeBenedetto went on to explain the blended model between computer online
classes versus traditional learning.
“We try to gear it towards different learning styles for students. Some students work well individually, and some need more from the staff. We try to gain their trust based on that.”
Coster said that there is a mutual understanding of the goal among leadership and staff throughout the district.
“They are equally invested in each other’s successes, which is a reason that you
can hit a number like 90 percent in a time where our free [and assisted] lunch
number is 65 percent, the highest it has ever been here at William Floyd,” he said.
“That needs to be noted because in a time in diminished resources when you are feeding at least 65 percent of your kids, you have a graduation rate that hits an all-time high, it has to do with the leaders both in the classrooms and in the buildings.”
Opening five years ago and sporting 70 students, the Floyd Academy’s attendance has more than doubled that now, at 150 students total.
“They go through an interview process,” he said. “They have to have the right
mindset, and we have to work on changing their mindsets. We are really working on the social-emotional development of our students as well. The bottom line is really to give the kids an opportunity and get them to graduate so that they are prepared for life.”
Keane added that DeBenedetto’s selection of staff has been key at the Floyd
Academy, given the needs of the students there.
“The way that those teachers work together, they meet every morning to problem-solve about every kid that might be struggling that day,” Keane said. “The way that [DeBenedetto] has really built a community — a family — is what brought those kids through.”
Switching gears to the career and technical education program, Keane shared
that the program is key in getting students interested in a craft, and getting them on a track of interest earlier rather than later.
“I do think that those programs are critical to the success of our students, just
so the students can maybe see what the future could be for them,” she said. “And that was critical because that keeps them here. That keeps them coming. That stops them from dropping out.”
Adding onto that thought, Scotto discussed the importance of the curriculum’s
practicality. “When kids sit in these classrooms and they see why they need it, they know it is a goal of theirs to go into that profession, they actually walk out with skills on a daily basis,” Scotto said. “Then when they see that people who already left and already have jobs in some of these fields, it makes
Coster pointed out that this is not only a high school effort, though. It has been
a K-12 effort in order to achieve the milestone of 90 percent this year.
“Any educator in this district has a significant positive impact on them to graduate from high school down the line,” Coster said. “That is how we view this. Each year represents a chapter in that child’s education. People need to understand that it is something that begins in kindergarten, through our elementaries to the middle schools and then culminates in our high school. And the commitment is there from all of our educators.