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J-D High School in the spotlight

But students who earn fewer than 20 credits by the end of the first year lose momentum toward degree completion, Gasparini said. Research findings show that "academic intensity" of a student's high school curriculum still counts for more than anything else in a student's pre-college academic experience.

To better prepare students for post-secondary academic life, Gasparini said it is imperative to encourage students to increase intensity by taking higher level, or honors courses. At J-D, these include such programs as AP (Advanced Placement), SUPA (Syracuse University Project Advance) and Project Lead the Way.

Over the last few years, enrollment in honors courses at J-D has risen markedly. During the 2000-01 school year, 88 students took 157 AP exams. In 2005-06, 206 students took 324 AP exams.

One area that needs work, Gasparini said, is attracting minority and lower-income students to the honors curriculum. Recognizing that this gap needs to be closed, Gasparini said that teachers and counselors are charged with identifying students with promise. All are working together to contact parents and meet with students for encouragement in participation in high level courses.

"This is really happening in the high school -- it's a wonderful thing," said Dennis Resetarits, board president. "What you're doing now is right on target."

Tracking the seniors

Assistant Principal Will Dowdell explained how teachers and administrators follow seniors' progress and the strategies they use to help the students graduate.

Tracking senior progress begins in the first marking period, Dowdell said, as teachers submit progress reports within the first five weeks of school. The school sends "jeopardy letters" to those students who fail to achieve sufficient progress. To date, in a senior class of 222 students, 31 jeopardy letters have been mailed. As a percentage, this is comparable to last year, he said.

"At the earliest stage, we are already problem-solving," Dowdell said.

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