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Community, Consistency & Caring Aid Cato-Meridian’s High Graduation Rates

New data released last week by the New York State Education Department found that Cato-Meridian Central School District had the highest high school graduation rate within the Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES region in 2019, continuing the district’s sustained success with graduation results.

With a 95 percent graduation rate, it marked a two percent increase over the district’s 2018 figure and the eight consecutive year that Cato-Meridian surpassed the 90 percent plateau.

In speaking with district personnel, Cato-Meridian’s continued success related to graduation rates can be attributed to several key factors, including the efforts of all three schools within the district.

“This is the combined efforts of everyone, not just the high school. It’s great to take ownership for the result, but I think it’s years and years of teamwork and collaboration to get them to that point,” said High School Principal Danielle Mahoney.

Elementary Principal Rob Wren agreed, noting how graduation results reflect the efforts of school staff from throughout the district.

“When I see our graduation rates, it makes me feel proud. That’s our goal from pre-kindergarten on through high school. A lot of what drives us every day is getting these students ready for their diplomas,” said Wren.

Middle School Principal Sean Gleason said he is very proud of all the faculty and staff for regarding the graduation rate, noting that the results are a reflection on the whole district.

In addition to academics, faculty and staff also contribute to each student’s emotional, social and behavioral well-being, Gleason said.
“In doing so, our students are able to more clearly focus on academics. Many of our staff go above and beyond to support students both in and out of the classroom,” said Gleason.
All three principals said consistency at the leadership level throughout the district has also been key in helping develop lasting educational goals and strategies.

“It takes time to put things into place. When you have consistency, it really helps. We are a good team and work extremely well together,” Wren said.
Mahoney said she has been in her current role for 12 years, but prior to that the district had a 20-year stretch where principals would only last a few years. That inconsistency led to different philosophies and beliefs and proved to be a challenge in creating a culture of learning, she said.

“With our stability now, we’ve been able to put systems in place to create expectations and accountability, which then aid with the graduation results we’re now getting,” said Mahoney.

Robin Bartholomew, who taught in the district for 45 years and currently assists the athletic department, said stability in the district also creates positivity among teachers.

“We don’t see a big turnover in teachers, and I think a lot of that has to do with the stability of the district,” she said.

Bartholomew also believes the district and community have worked well together over the years to help ensure student achievement.

“We have students who stay and raise their families here. The foundation of this community and school district is very strong. It takes a whole village to raise a child, and that’s exactly what we have,” said Bartholomew.

At the high school level, Mahoney said students come to the school with a fresh start, which in turn helps them achieve success.

“They’re a new person when they cross that field and get to the high school. Regardless of their past, this is a different building and a new opportunity,” said Mahoney. “Building relationships is always the biggest factor in student success. We always encourage teachers to build those relationships.”

To that end, the school has implemented several measures to help increase relationships between students and teachers, including the establishment home rooms a few years ago. Mahoney said the hard work, dedication and commitment from the teaching staff plays a key role in the success of students.

“The connection they make and the willingness they have to come in early and stay late is so important to the success of our students,” Mahoney said. “It’s a family here.”

Teacher Sandra Casper-Sheehan echoed those sentiments.

“The reason we’re able to have such high graduation rates is because we’re a district that focuses on students and families,” said Casper-Sheehan. “The students are the motivator. We’re very dedicated to these kids and will do anything for them.”

Mahoney said the recent addition of a grading paper, updates to the academic eligibility policy and the development of a district-wide strategic plan are other examples of strategies the school has in place to increase academic success.

“Failure truly isn’t an option. I know that’s cliché to say, but I believe it to be true,” said Mahoney.

From an extracurricular standpoint, Athletic Director David Scholl said the district always emphasizes the term “student-athlete,” meaning student always comes first.

Like Mahoney, Scholl also discussed the importance of creating relationships between students, parents, coaches and educators.

“From my seat as athletic director, I think one of the great things is how I can honestly say I have a relationship with just about every student in the district,” said Scholl. “I’m at the games, I’m in the hallways, I’m in the classrooms, I’m talking with parents. I think that’s one of the keys to our district. If kids don’t feel accepted, they may fade away.”

High school teacher Patrick Cost provided a unique take as to why Cato-Meridian has experienced sustained success with graduation rates. Cost, who grew up and attended a nearby school district, said he was always impressed by the actions of Cato-Meridian students.

“I just remember every Cato-Meridian student being a good kid. They always stood out in terms of how they presented themselves during events,” said Cost. “It has that small-town feel. That’s why I applied here.”

Superintendent Dr. Terry Ward agreed with Cost, noting how supportive students and families are of the district. Ward also noted that the district’s new strategic plan will set the district up for continued success as well as continuous improvement.

“As a result of the strategic plan, the district created a new vision statement, ‘Small Community, Big Impact.’ It seems as if Cato-Meridian Central School District is doing just that, making a big impact,” said Ward.

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