Haverhill Superintendent James F. Scully set the record straight on the city’s dropout rate, deflating one of the central issues in this year’s School Committee race.
At recent candidate forums, School Committee candidates have been asked to explain how they would address the rate, which has been reported at 5.9 percent, nearly three times the state average.
Moments after Thursday’s School Committee meeting, candidate Richard Rosa told WHAV the fact that the rate is lower than previously believed is good news for the city.
The falsely elevated rate has been a topic of discussion at community forums and among members of the City Council during budget negotiations.
Scully, who has disputed the accuracy of the reports for the past few years, told the School Committee an in-house investigation showed that data entered in the school department’s records incorrectly counted as dropouts students who moved, transferred to other schools or even began attending the city’s alternative school.
Rosa said the city should build on its better-than-expected dropout rate.
“The City of Haverhill now has an opportunity to reduce its dropout rate well below the state average and to be a leader among urban districts in lowering the dropout rate. Haverhill does not have to settle for average,” Rosa said.
According to Scully, of 107 students who were listed as dropouts, 59 were coded in error. Only 43 actually dropped out of school, Scully said. That computes as a 2.3 percent dropout rate. According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the state rate for 2015-2016, the last year for which numbers are available, was 1.9 percent.
The superintendent said three or four district employees were responsible for the coding errors, marking students who moved out of state, or transferred to Central Catholic, Phillips, Brooks, Presentation of Mary Academy and other regional high schools as dropouts.
Scully said every one of the 59 students has been identified and the district has confirmed that all are attending other schools.
Rosa suggested the district look at an innovation school to focus on students at risk of dropping out.
“It is time we start a conversation about how we reduce the dropout rate further. We can use what we have learned from the success of the Haverhill Alternative High School and the Youth Engaging in Success (YES) Program, which ended in 2015 after the federal grant money dried up, to build an academy or innovation school at the high school,” he said.
Three members will be chosen to serve four-year terms on the School Committee during the municipal election on Tuesday, Nov. 7. In addition to Rosa, challengers are Richard E. Smyth, Katrina Hobbs Everett, and incumbents Paul A. Magliocchetti and Maura Ryan-Ciardiello.