Ed.D. Grad Leads Attendance, Graduation Rate Turnaround in School District
When Stanley Harper was named superintendent of Salmon River Central School District as he completed his doctorate in Educational Leadership at Sage’s Esteves School of Education in 2015, the district had chronic attendance problems, failing 3-8 test scores, an increasing dropout rate and graduation rates below the state average. His leadership since that time has yielded an impressive turnaround in the community in northern New York, near the Canadian border.
Between 2015 and 2016, the district’s graduation rate increased from 70 percent to 81 percent. “Last year, we boosted attendance rates for the second year in a row,” said Harper. “We also reached another great graduation rate that exceeded the New York State graduation target rate.”
Harper shares credit for the improvements with the administrators, teachers, students and families in his district. The initiatives that he sees as having the greatest impact include a night high school and intensive outreach to families of students who missed 15 or more days of school during the academic year. The night high school had a 100 percent graduation rate in 2016 and 2017, said Harper, and the number of students with chronic absences fell from about 350 students in the 2015-16 academic year, to about 80 in 2016-17. He also implemented a process known as Action Research to use student performance outcome data to align and guide instruction, which positively impacted test scores.
“Building relationships among the administration team and teaching staff and between schools and families has been key,” continued Harper, who regularly holds community conversations for parents and other stakeholders to discuss concerns or suggest ideas in person. “We still have a long way to go but the most important thing I see is where we were and where we are.”
Harper previously directed school improvement and pupil personnel initiatives in the Albany School District and implemented Albany High School’s $7.5 million magnet grant, which transformed a comprehensive high school of 2,800 students into four academies in order to build stronger relationships and increase personalized learning. He has also taught and held administrative positions in the Enlarged City School District of Troy.
A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, he said the opportunity to lead Salmon River offered “lots of interesting pieces,” that appealed to him for many reasons, “including on a deep personal level.” Sixty three percent of the district’s students are from the Mohawk Nation, and 19 percent of its students live in Canada (The St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in New York and the Akwesasne Reserve in Ontario and Quebec are one community.) The district includes Mohawk tradition, culture and language in its curriculum. “Salmon River had challenges I wanted to take on,” he continued. “I had the experience and an internal calling.”
In April, Sage’s Alumni Association honored Harper with the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award, presented to an alumnus for significant achievement within 10 years of graduating. Harper, who holds a master’s degree from Sage in addition to his doctorate, said that Sage’s education programs, and particularly, the counsel of Professor Robert Bradley, Ed.D., and cohort colleague Richard Rose, Ed.D., “made me a better and more reflective practitioner.”