Black, Pacific Islander students in San Francisco improve graduation rates 

click to enlarge Principal Paul Koh of International Studies Academy, which raised its graduation rate to 83.3 percent, says overcoming youths’ negative mindsets is vital. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Principal Paul Koh of International Studies Academy, which raised its graduation rate to 83.3 percent, says overcoming youths’ negative mindsets is vital.

Black and Pacific Islander students in The City have been graduating high school at a higher rate, and local educators say the key has been changing the mindset of kids living in disadvantaged communities.

In the past two years, the graduation rate among black students in the San Francisco Unified School District has increased significantly, jumping from 56.9 percent in the 2009-10 school year to 70.8 percent last school year, according to data released Tuesday by the California Department of Education.

The number of local Pacific Islander students who finish high school also is on the rise. In 2011-12, 70.6 percent graduated, up from 60.5 percent in 2010-11.

Paul Koh, principal of International Studies Academy, said the biggest obstacle to improving graduation rates in disadvantaged communities is convincing kids that they can succeed.

“They think, ‘Nobody believes in me, so why should I care?’” he said, adding that the key is “getting kids to see what we see for the first time.”

In the past year, the graduation rate of International Studies Academy, located in Potrero Hill, increased from 74.1 percent to 83.3 percent, while the dropout rate fell from 18.5 percent to 13.3 percent.

Bayview’s Philip and Sala Burton Academic High School experienced the district’s most dramatic shift, raising its graduation rate from 77.5 percent to 87.9 percent while shrinking its dropout rate from 17.4 percent to 9.1 percent.

The district’s overall graduation rate increased from 81.8 percent to 82.2 percent last year;  it eclipsed the statewide average of 78.5 percent.

While the rates of black and Pacific Islander students improved, the graduation numbers took a slight dip among Latino students, falling from 67.9 percent to 67.5 percent.

SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said the graduation rate for Latino students might have flattened out because it jumped 8.4 percent last year.

“It’s sort of hard to sustain big leaps year after year,” she said. “But at the same time, obviously, it’s still not where we need to be.”

Koh said his school improved its graduation rate by tracking students, identifying the kids that are struggling and reaching out to them on a personal level to reshape defeatist mindsets.

“That’s what students say they like most about our school,” he said. “They have a relationship with the staff, their teachers, and they don’t feel invisible.”

The graduation statistics were calculated by tracking the class of 2012 over a four-year period, from grades nine through 12.

pgackle@sfexaminer.com

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