BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — The dropout and graduation rates at Salem High School have improved steadily in recent years as more programs have been added for at-risk students, according to school officials.
The four-year adjusted dropout rate, which follows students who spend all four years at Salem High, declined from 17.2 percent in 2008 to 5.5 percent last year, according to a report that Salem High administrators filed with the School Committee.
During that same period, the graduation rate climbed from 71 to 86 percent.
The improvement is significant, local officials said, because it comes in the midst of a turnaround effort at Salem High initiated after the school was cited two years ago for low scores in the statewide MCAS exams.
“It shows we’re on the right track,” said Robert Quist, director of guidance and counseling at the high school.
Principal Dave Angeramo pointed to a number of new programs, most of which were initiated or significantly altered in the past few years, that are aimed at at-risk students.
They include a summer school for students making up courses they failed, which averages about 125 students a year. Salem High also offers an online credit recovery program during the school day.
Just a few years ago, Salem High students who failed a course had to attend summer programs in other communities. Only a handful took advantage, Quist said.
Nearly 30 students graduated last year from Bridge Academy, an alternative program located inside Salem High for students struggling in the regular academic program. The number of graduates rose significantly after it changed from an after-school program to one offered during the school day, officials said.
In addition, the safety net includes Salem Prep, a separate school at The House of the Seven Gables for special needs students. And, for years, Salem High has had a Teen Parenting Program for students who are pregnant or have babies.
Two years ago, the Salem public schools opened Salem Community Charter School for 50 students who have dropped out or are at risk of leaving school. It is too early to see the impact of this new school on dropout or graduation rates, Quist said, but he expects it will have a significant impact in future years.
Even with the improvements, however, the school’s dropout and graduation rates are still slightly below state averages.
As its focuses on at-risk students, Angeramo stressed that Salem High is also trying to improve its program for high-performing students. As evidence, he noted that many more students are taking and receiving college credit for Advanced Placement courses. The number of qualifying scores in the AP test almost tripled in the past four years, he said.
But faced with a high dropout rate and relatively low graduation rates, Salem High has focused a lot of time and attention on turning those numbers around.
“We’re trying to meet students’ needs by being creative and offering different alternatives,” Angeramo said. “However, there are still standards students need to meet.”
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SALEM HIGH DROPOUT RATE 2008 17.2% 2009 12.2% 2019 8.6% 2011 5.7% 2012 5.5% * This is the adjusted four-year rate, which tracks students starting at Salem High in ninth grade and going through the senior year. It does not include students who transferred into or out of the system at other points during the four years. Source: Salem High School