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Multiple pathways ?to graduation essential

Few moments offer greater joy for an educator than learning of the success of one's students. As an administrator, when the efforts of others in the organization make the accomplishments possible, the knowledge that one of "our" kids did well is pure delight.

The most recent experience of this for me occurred last month during the 51st commencement at Hilbert College when a member of the Class of 2012 took the stage to speak. She began her speech by expressing her own surprise and satisfaction at even being there, believing she was one of the least likely individuals to have earned a bachelor of science degree, let alone to have been asked to address a large audience on an occasion of this importance.

You could feel the admiration for her in the auditorium as she shared that her high school graduation wasn't something she could have counted on without having attended an alternative learning program. This alternative education student was graduating summa cum laude from Hilbert and is listed in the 2011-12 "Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges."

In our high schools, there are students who do not fit the "one track" mold. Often it is the case that until provided an alternate pathway they resist the traditional model of school.

During the last decade, largely as a result of federal law, the focus of public education has been riveted upon the so-called core subjects of math and English language arts. The performance of individuals and their schools has been measured by standardized tests. Schools have become overly reliant upon narrow curricula and rigid instructional practices. Because after all, if schools are held publicly accountable for their students' success on standardized tests, what district wants to be "left behind"?

Our state's Board of Regents is presently in policy discussions that would create "multiple pathways" to high school graduation. The traditional pathway would continue. However, two new options offering the same amount of rigor and required courses as the traditional path would be established. The new pathways would be Career and Technical Education (CTE) and, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

Success for all students is far more likely if schools acknowledge and provide for the range of student needs and futures, and not upon what a standardized test-based accountability system demands. Talent develops in response to nurturance; which includes program, setting and relationships. This is not just a good idea. It is an essential requirement for the success of all our students.

The Board of Regents is relying upon a pragmatic assessment of young peoples' need for engagement with their schooling in light of the demands imposed by the marketplace of the future. Why wouldn't we want to make it possible for other talented, bright and otherwise productive young people to walk the stage at graduation and perhaps even address their class, arriving as it were by way of a different pathway?

I'm proud of my colleagues at Erie 1 BOCES who for years have provided multiple pathways to graduation for young people in a variety of circumstances. It is cause for joy and a pure delight to learn that these pathways begun early in their lives make possible the journey of a lifetime.

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Donald A. Ogilvie, district superintendent and CEO of Erie 1 BOCES, seeks success for all students.