Albuquerque Public Schools held a press conference today to talk about the increase in the district’s graduation rate. Honestly, I knew most of what they were going to say because I wrote about it in my overview graduation story.
APS saw gains at most of its 13 comprehensive high schools. There are no trends to examine yet at Atrisco Heritage Academy, which had its first graduating class last year and posted a rather impressive rate of 76.9 percent. Eldorado was statistically flat, with a decrease of less than one percentage point.
But, there were two schools that saw actual decreases: Valley and Manzano. Manzano dropped from 68.1 percent to 64 percent, and Valley dropped from 69.1 percent to 66.2 percent. So at today’s press conference I talked to the principals of those two schools, to pick their brains about what they think happened at their schools.
What I found out was kind of fascinating to me. Within the past two years, Valley and Manzano have both been designated “Title I” schools for the first time. Title I is a federal designation for schools where at least half the students qualify for lunch subsidies. It’s a standard measure of the level of poverty at a school. Valley received the designation last year, and this year Manzano became a Title I school. The Title I designation also comes with additional federal money to help alleviate the effects of poverty on educational outcomes.
This is interesting and important. There are schools in APS, like Rio Grande and West Mesa, that have been Title I schools forever. They have always been located in parts of town with relatively high rates of poverty, and those schools are making gains. Then there are schools like La Cueva and Volcano Vista that simply don’t have such high levels of poverty to contend with.
Valley and Manzano fall in between, and their demographics are changing. Therese Carroll, the principal of Manzano, said significantly more students at Manzano have been living in poverty since the beginning of the recession in 2008.
“Our schools are very similar, in that we’ve always been in the middle of the demographics. What I’ve noticed over the last four years since the recession hit in 2008 is that our data has been fluctuating more as we’ve had an increase in lower socioeconomic status, we’ve had our free/reduced lunch numbers going up dramatically,” Carroll said.
She also said another thing I thought was interesting, about the difference between generational poverty and new poverty. Both are hard on kids, but she said poverty “has it’s own kind of drama, on families that are newly poor.”
I think a lot about schools where many students come from generational poverty, but have spent less time thinking about schools like Valley and Manzano. I think places like this merit more attention.