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New initiative aims to bolster graduation rates

SARANAC LAKE - A new initiative by Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES and its nine school districts is taking aim at dropout prevention in area high schools.

The Graduation Rate Initiative aims to boost the rate of graduating seniors to at least 90 percent by June 2012. The current cumulative graduation rate for the nine area BOCES districts is 78 percent.

Through a collaborative effort with the Community Intervention Partnership, the initiative will involve educators and students, families, community agencies and employers.

BOCES Superintendent Stephen Shafer said a high-school diploma is key to the success of young adults as they venture into the workforce.

"The foundation of a high school diploma opens many doors," Shafer said. "A diploma increases the likelihood of an individual to pursue post-secondary education, and provides an advantage in pursuing a career."

The initiative specifically targets students from high-risk situations, including teens who come from a volatile home or have special educational needs - or sometimes both.

Shafer said a comprehensive approach is necessary to helping high-risk students graduate.

"They may be involved with other agencies, some of the students may be involved in probation or other agencies in the county and we have to have support from those agencies as well and work in collaboration with them to really put together the best possible plan for these students to reach graduation," Shafer said.

Franklin County Social Services Commissioner Lesley Lyon chairs the Community Intervention Partnership. She said the program targets the individuals who are most in danger of not graduating.

"We really need to work together to find ways to make systemic changes in the lives of these children and families," Lyon said.

High School Principal Bruce VanWeelden is heading up the effort in Saranac Lake, and he said schools have considerable latitude in how they choose to address graduation rates.

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