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Buffalo's graduation rate rises to 54%; Four of city's six lowest-achieving schools see declines; South Park improves to 58%

Buffalo's overall four-year graduation rate increased almost 7 percentage points in 2011, to 54 percent -- but the graduation rate dropped at four of the city's six persistently lowest-achieving high schools, according to data released Monday by the state Education Department.

The biggest drop was at Burgard High School, where only 32 percent of the Class of 2011 graduated in four years -- down from a 49 percent graduation rate the year before.

Bennett High School reported a 36 percent four-year graduation rate, down 10 percentage points from the previous year.

Lafayette High School's graduation rate dropped 5 points, to 31 percent; East High School's dropped 4 percentage points, to 40 percent; and Riverside's graduation rate held steady at 31 percent.

Interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon and district spokeswoman Elena Cala did not respond to a request to comment on the declines at those schools.

The sole bright spot among the group of persistently lowest-achieving schools was at South Park, where the graduation rate increased 11 points, to 58 percent.

Across the district, the graduation rate increased to 54 percent.

"The Buffalo Public School district is pleased to have made a 6.6 percentage point increase in graduating seniors between 2010 and 2011, but acknowledges there is still far to go," Cala said in a brief statement.

That increase neutralizes a 6-point decrease the previous year, bringing the city's graduation rate up slightly higher than the 53.1 percent it was in 2009.

The one-year dip was attributed to a commencement academy that the district instituted for one year, in 2005, that in effect pulled out about 1,000 ninth-graders who were struggling academically and put them into the following year's group of freshmen.

Putting so many struggling students into the Class of 2010 -- 3,479 ninth-graders -- pulled down that group's graduation rate, former Superintendent James A. Williams said last year, when the state announced the decline.

The Class of 2011 returned to a more standard size, with 2,653 students.

Results were also mixed among charter schools serving Buffalo students.

The Charter School for Applied Technologies -- in the Town of Tonawanda, but serving mostly Buffalo students -- reported a 100 percent graduation rate for the third year in a row.

Oracle Charter School's graduation rate dropped 16 points, to 62 percent.

Lt. Col. Larry Astyk, commandant of Western New York Maritime Charter School, was pleasantly surprised Monday by his school's nearly 20 percent increase in graduation rate -- to 78 percent -- though not inordinately so.

"Obviously, we're a relatively new school. Every year, we implement programs and strategies to help our kids," Astyk said.

In Niagara County, Lewiston-Porter High School posted a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, the highest in the area outside the Charter School for Applied Technologies. Next highest was East Aurora High School, with a 97 percent graduation rate.

Outside of Buffalo, the lowest graduation rate was in Lackawanna, at 65 percent.

Buffalo's district graduation rate, 54 percent, was better than that in Rochester, which was 45.5 percent, and Syracuse, which was 48.4 percent. Rochester saw a decline of about half a percentage point from the previous year, while Syracuse saw a 2.5 percentage point increase.

New York City posted a four-year graduation rate of 60.9 percent, which remained essentially flat from the previous year.

Statewide, the four-year graduation rate rose about half a percentage point to 74 percent.

email: mpasciak@buffnews.com