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East High School principal placed on administrative leave in probe

The Buffalo school district is investigating the accuracy of graduation data for East High School, and Principal Casey M. Young has been placed on administrative leave while the district conducts the review.

Superintendent Kriner Cash said Monday that he was concerned about unusually high gains for the Class of 2015, particularly among students who earned their diploma after taking summer credit-recovery classes. Data for that class is still being verified by the state and has not yet been made public.

“When I see anything that looks like double-digit increases, I raise questions about that,” Cash said. “It’s very difficult to raise the graduation rate one or two points in a year. I want to make sure anything on my watch is accurate.”

Sources familiar with the situation say that Young was escorted out of the building last week. Young, who was not at East on Monday, has previously been investigated for issues pertaining to his school’s graduation data.

Young could not immediately be reached to comment.

Graduation rates at East have steadily improved under Young’s leadership. Between 2011 and 2014, the rate increased to 52 percent, from 41.2 percent, when including students who graduated after summer school.

The gains are particularly noticeable among those who finish after taking summer courses. In 2014, for example, the graduation rate for students who finished in June was 39 percent. When factoring those who graduated in August, which the state considers on time, the rate increased to 52 percent.

Cash indicated that there was a similar trend in 2015 but did not give specifics because the numbers have not been verified by the state.

Although East’s gains are the most significant, other district high schools have looked to summer credit-recovery programs to improve their graduation rates. Those programs let students take courses in an abbreviated time frame, allowing them an opportunity to catch up on missed credits. For Regents courses, students still must pass the state exams.

Young has previously said that East strategically plans for students to take certain courses during the summer months to lessen their burden during the regular year.

The latest gains at East also raised concerns at the state level, and Cash said he has been in contact with the state education commissioner about the district’s investigation.

“If the gains are real, great,” Cash said. “We need to verify that.”

East is among the district schools that have drawn state attention for struggling to improve pupil performance, despite what Young has characterized as improvements among his students. Last year, the School Board voted to phase out the school, something that will ultimately lead to its closure.

Young previously said that given his school’s improving graduation rate, he hoped to challenge the school’s status with the state and keep it open. A graduate rate audit of East and McKinley high schools conducted by the state Education Department last year found some technical issues with McKinley’s physical-education credits but found no issues with East’s figures or paperwork.

Young also drew controversy after he took over at the school four years ago when he “counseled out” a number of students who missed the window to graduate on time and whom he deemed unlikely to earn a diploma. That included students between the ages of 18 and 20 whom Young characterized as troublemakers who did not regularly show up for class but were “sucking up school resources” and “poisoning the environment.”

“If graduation is out of reach for you,” Young said in a 2013 interview, “why are you enrolled in the program?”

Removing those students who already missed the window to graduate on time would not directly affect the school’s graduation rate, Young said. After they left, behavior issues diminished and other students were able to focus on their studies, he said.

Still, the practice drew criticism from School Board members and state leaders. Cash said that those past issues were not the catalyst for the new investigation. He also noted that the district would conduct similar reviews at any other school that draws suspicion because of its data.

News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: