Statement from East Superintendent Shaun Nelms on the First Day of School

On Sept. 8, we embarked on a new chapter at East when the school opened its doors under a new partnership with the University of Rochester. Students were greeted and cheered on by teachers and other staff as they arrived for the first day of school. The energy and excitement for the new school year and new beginnings at East abounded—it was contagious. We couldn’t have imagined a better way to begin a new school year together.
While the tone for the first day of school is exactly what we set out to achieve, we know the hard work is ahead of us, as demonstrated by the mixed results of our first-day attendance numbers. We were delighted that the East Lower School (grades 6-8) attendance rate was 91 percent. In fact, 94 percent of our newly added sixth-grade cohort was present. The East Upper School (grades 9-12) attendance rate was 74 percent on Tuesday, yielding an overall attendance on first day of 79 percent.  
An ongoing challenge at East will continue to be with the excessive number of ninth graders who have been failing and repeating, sometimes multiple times. More than half of East’s freshman students (57 percent) were retained last year and approximately three-quarters (76 percent) of ninth-grade students were retained at least once in their school experience.  The attendance rate for East’s repeat ninth graders, which consists of 218 of our 398 freshman students, was at 43 percent yesterday, thus dramatically impacting our overall attendance rate for East Upper School. On a more positive note, the attendance rate for our new, first-time ninth graders was 84 percent. Without the very low attendance rate of our repeat ninth-graders, the rate for East Upper School would have been 86 percent.
This data is a reminder of the critical need to provide additional support to East’s students struggling academically.  It is also a challenge that we anticipated early on in the planning process, and we have allocated a number of resources as part of the Educational Partnership Organization (EPO), such as alternative programs like Big Picture Learning, compressed classes, and a new GED preparation program and East Evening that are currently in the works, to help students get back on track and to re-engage those students who may not have attended school last year. And while yesterday’s attendance for Big Picture Learning, a pilot program designed for 60 first-time ninth grade repeaters, was higher (88 percent), it did not offset the number of students who actually missed school.
A focus on attendance will continue to be a top priority and a key to success at East. A high level of absenteeism will continue to lead to poor performance and high dropout rates.

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Media Contact: Theresa Danylak
(585) 275-0777; (585) 278-6273 (cell)

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