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PCSD looks to Pathway Transformation program to engage students, prepare for careers

An image depicting the structure of the Transformation Pathway InitiativeThe Poughkeepsie City School District’s Pathway Transformation Initiative is making strides in increasing student engagement through curriculum focused on specific career preparation that begins at the elementary level.

The initiative is a direct product of the district creating a Pathway Transformation Initiative Task Force in December 2021, an element of the district's Five-Year Strategic Plan and as a multi-pronged strategy to increase graduation rates by connecting students with a concentration of study that matches their interests throughout their matriculation.

Student disengagement is one of the biggest challenges educators face, and a leading factor in how successful districts can be in keeping kids in class to graduate.

Dropout rates are a pervasive hurdle in urban districts, especially. The Poughkeepsie City School District has struggled with graduating large numbers of students within four years for more than a decade, reaching a high of 60 percent in recent years. Though that number is higher for students graduating within five and six years, PCSD remains committed to graduating all ninth-grade students within four years of high school enrollment. The Everyone Graduates Center, a product of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, states, "Many students in urban schools become disengaged at the start of the middle grades, which greatly reduces the odds that they will eventually graduate."

The role of the Pathway Transformation Initiative Task Force  is to: 

  • help inform programmatic pathways designed to lead postsecondary opportunities aligned to emerging industry and occupational fields throughout the Hudson Valley;
  • assist in the completion of a formal recommendation report, which will clarify the school and community needs, desires, concerns and recommendations for pathways to be developed;
  • assist in the development of a “Pathways Survey” to be administered to students, parents, staff, community members and business partners;
  • ensure that all stakeholders have access to surveys and information to help inform pathway recommendations;
  • assist in keeping all stakeholders in the school and community well informed about the process and progress of the transformation during the design, planning, and implementation phases; and
  • to serve in an advisory capacity through the design and implementation process.

The survey designed by the task force identified what would eventually become five career pathways (Computer Science, Arts, Health Sciences, Business and Entrepreneurship, Communication and Early Child Education) that would be integrated into student high school course offerings.

At the Board of Education's recent Workshop Meeting, Dr. Charles Gallo, assistant superintendent of secondary education, and Dr. Janety Encarnacion, director of college readiness and workforce education, provided a presentation on Pathway Transformation work highlighting the work that has been done at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Career readiness presentation at ClintonAt the elementary level, Encarnacion highlighted the district has invested in Pathful Junior, a K-5 career awareness platform that introduces young students to the world of careers with authentic and age-appropriate content. She also noted elementary students are engaging in conversations about college and careers with certain grade levels participating in college visits and taking career surveys.

At the middle school level, students have access to Pathful Explore, an ages 6-16 college and career exploration platform that uses a combination of interactive tools, assessments and real-world exploration videos to help students adapt to the rapidly evolving world of work. Encarnacion highlighted middle school students participate in the high school college fair, attend college tours, and are enrolled in courses aligned with the high school career pathways (Computer Science and Art).

Encarnacion pointed out the district is currently partnering with the Marist College Liberty Partnerships Program, SUNY New Paltz, Dutchess Community College, Dutchess BOCES and the Bardavon 1869 Opera House to provide career programming targeted to maintain high levels of student engagement and prepare them for future college and career opportunities.  

At the high school level, Gallo provided an update on career pathway course sequencing, highlighting that Computer Science the Arts pathways were established this current school year and Health Sciences and Business and Entrepreneurship are slated to be offered for the 2024-25 academic year.

Encarnacion praised the efforts of Kelly Semexant, college readiness and workforce education counselor at the high school, in leading and facilitating college presentations, FAFSA completion workshops, intensive writing labs to support students with college essays and scholarship applications, college and trade fairs, and college tours. Encarnacion also highlighted the work of the Career Action Center, a program of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, located at Poughkeepsie High School. 

Lastly, Encarnacion announced a partnership between Dutchess Community College, the Bardavon and the Poughkeepsie City School District, made possible through a New York State Education Department $825,000 five-year grant to up to 30 students interested in the performing arts. Students participating in the program will earn a minimum of 24 college credits. 

"Our approach to addressing the academic outcomes of students is changing the trajectory of student success in the district,” said Dr. Eric Jay Rosser, superintendent of schools. “We have seen early wins in grades 3-8 ELA and Math proficiency rates, and growth in elementary iReady diagnostic assessments, and the state recently designated all of our elementary schools as ‘Good Standing.’

“Where we need to continue to focus our attention is middle and high school student engagement and resolving the unacceptable four-year graduation rate,” Rosser said. “The Pathway Transformation Initiative is an essential component of a larger solution that will require a well-defined commitment of the school district, parents and students, and community partners to resolve.”