City School District of Albany

Updated May 15, 2019

Increasing graduation rates

Albany, New York

City School District of Albany in New York is a high-needs district serving 10,000 students, and nearly 85% of them qualify for free or reduced lunch. Albany High School enrolls approximately 2,800 students. Thanks to the implementation of the Online Success Program, Albany High School has gone from a 50% graduation rate to 72% over a nine-year period. Founded in 2010, the Online Success Program first focused solely on seniors who were not motivated to graduate; by May of 2011, all 20 students who had taken part in the pilot program graduated, offering students flexibility to complete their work when and how they wanted to.

The school realized that the Online Success Program could provide flexibility for all students, so the district put together a task force to plan for roll out to the entire high school. As of 2011, Albany High School was offering 80% of their course titles as part of the Online Success Program. As Thomas Vacanti, Albany High School’s Online Learning Coordinator, explains, “The program is no longer just for struggling students. It also offers mastery-based options to help higher-achieving students earn the additional points they need to raise their grades.” The program now serves over 500 students a year. Students can either self-refer into the program or be referred by teachers, their counselor, or a parent. Upon entry into the program, students sign a contract and review their prospectus with Vacanti and the teacher’s assistant to decide what the best path is for success. Students enroll in online courses for credit recovery as well as for original credit for electives.

A typical day for a student in the program includes one to three study halls mixed into a regular schedule of face-to-face classes. Upperclassmen get more study halls if they need to recover more credit or need more flexibility for electives. During the study halls, students work in the program’s dedicated lab, which offers 25 computers. The teacher’s assistant checks in and helps motivate students to work through their coursework and keep them on task. Vacanti is also able to see every student’s computer screen on his monitor, so he can keep students accountable. The courses themselves offer a minimum amount of instructional support, so Vacanti as well as a teacher’s assistant are available to students all day in the lab; other content-specific teachers also provide help as needed after school and during Saturday sessions.

In the 2018–19 academic year, the program is working on offering students support specific to soft skills, such as reflection, self-regulation, study skills, and time management. Some students have emotional and mental support needs or are second- or third-year freshmen; they may come to school for a shortened day and only work in the lab on online courses and not have traditional courses. Based on students’ needs, the program continues to make adjustments as needed. The most important component for the students’ success is the relationship that Vacanti and the other supporting educators have with the students. Because of the Online Success Program’s increase in graduation rates, Albany High School has been removed from the Receivership list as of the 2018–19 academic year.

This profile was developed through correspondence with Thomas Vacanti of City School District of Albany.

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