Octorara chief seeks higher graduation rate
BY DEBBIE WYGENT, Correspondent
The Octorara Area School District is working toward a 100 percent graduation rate, and the community will see improved graduation numbers, Superintendent Thomas Newcome recently told the school board.
"The truth is, we have about 10 students per year who drop out or get their GED, and 10 students per year who do not graduate on time," Newcome said. "Graduating late is a better option than not graduating."
Newcome was asked by board members to explain the school district's 72 percent graduation rate for the 2011-12 school year after Timothy Alexander of Parkesburg spoke during the March 11 meeting and called the school district's graduation rates "abysmal." Alexander, who is running for a school board seat in Region 3, suggested local taxpayers are not getting a good return on their investment.
Newcome said the 72 percent graduation rate for the 204 students in the Class of 2012 reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Education is actually low and incorrect. However, the school district missed the October deadline to correct and appeal the number.
Newcome said after checking data with the PDE, the district's graduation rate would actually have been 84.62 to 92 percent.
"We will see improvements on the 2012-13 data," Newcome said. "To get to 100 percent, we have to do a better job. We've made an intentional position to hold on to students to get them graduated if they aren't on-time graduates."
The superintendent said staff are following up with students who move. Octorara also opened its own twilight alternative education program to help students finish their high school education. Opening the program has saved the school district more than $200,000 per year in outside tuition paid to other alternative education programs. Graduates have included young parents and a man in his 50s.
During the visitor comment session, Alexander complained about high teachers' salaries at Octorara and the district's millage rate, adding "kids are the ones who are suffering."
Scott Grimes of Parkesburg also spoke, saying his two daughters participated in arts, academics and sports and went on to attend private colleges.
"I'm very pleased with the investment of my tax money, and I thank you for that," he said to the school board.
School security also topped the agenda. Newcome told board members some parents who attended recent forums on school security have requested that schools be staffed with armed guards. He said the school district plans to participate in two risk and vulnerability assessments, one performed by the Pennsylvania State Police and one performed by the Chester County Intermediate Unit.
Nelson Stoltzfus of the board facilities committee said the district has ordered new security gates for the elementary school and for the passage between the junior high and high school.
"To get to 100 percent, we have to do a better job. We've made an intentional position to hold on to students to get them graduated if they aren't on-time graduates."
Octorara Area School District superintendent