Ithaca, N.Y. – For the third year in a row, the Ithaca City School District has reported an improved graduation rate.

Dr. Luvelle Brown

ICSD Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown attributes the trend largely to an increase in technological tools available to students and a more engaging school day.

“We’re not here for incremental improvements. We’re here to transform and change the culture, and I think what you’re seeing with those kinds of shifts is important,” Brown said.

For three years – from the 2006-2007 school year through the 2008-2009 school year – the school district’s graduation rate held at 77 percent. Then it dipped to 76 percent for 2009-10.

That’s when something changed. By 2010-2011, 79 percent of Ithaca City School District students were graduating in four years. The graduation rate inched up another one percent in 2011-2012, and then leaped forward by five percent – to 85 percent – for 2012-2013.

This year’s graduation. (Kyle Friend)
This year’s graduation. (Kyle Friend)

Statistics for the class of 2013-2014, which is graduating this month, have not been released yet.

But Brown, who became ICSD superintendent in January 2011, is optimistic.

“Our significant improvement over a short amount of time gives me confidence and is an indication that we can achieve 100 percent,” Brown said.

It is true that the improvement in ICSD’s graduation rate is part of a national trend. An April story in POLITICO noted that the high school graduation rate had topped 80 percent for the first time in US history, citing a “rapid pace of improvement” nationally.

It’s also, of course, impossible to say for sure which of the many factors that go into a student’s success has affected ICSD’s graduation rate.

But Brown and Ithaca High School Principal Jarett Powers are confident that the schools’ work is making a difference.

In January 2014, Brown was named one of America’s most “tech savy” superintendents by eSchool News.

Smart Boards have been widely installed; classrooms are integrated with iPads; all school buildings are fitted with wireless.

eSchool News, a leading publication covering technology in education, tied the changes to a 36-point bump in SAT scores, a decline in “discipline issues” and an increase in attendance.

Powers, the principal of IHS, also highlighted the importance of the technological improvements.

Additionally, Powers cited taking an “individualized effort” to reach out to students as one of the main factors behind the all-time high graduation rate for the district. Tutoring, mentoring, transportation, access to lunch and breakfast are all part of the solution, Powers said.

When it comes to educating students, Powers says, the faculty have been receptive to the new changes.

Powers highlighted teachers, like math teacher Katie Carrick, who stay hours after the end of the day to help students with “answering every single question they have.”

“They’re incredibly dedicated,” said Powers, “we have teaching assistants and teacher aides that would blow your mind in terms of the amount of effort they put into to having kids be successful.”

Kyle Friend

A senior at Cornell University, Kyle covers the affordable housing crisis for the Ithaca Voice. Reach him through e-mail: kyleafriend@gmail.com.