When Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik saw statistics reporting Shelter Island School graduates had poor results completing two- and four-year college programs, he questioned the accuracy of the numbers.
The National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit that provides data on education, reported that, across the country, 75 percent of students who started college in 2010 graduated or were on track to graduate while the numbers dropped to 73 percent of those who started in 2011, and 67 percent in 2012.
According to the numbers released by the Clearinghouse, of 25 Island students who started college in 2010, 18 were still in school a year later. For 2011, it reported that 11 of 18 Islanders who had started college that year were still in school a year later. And of the 17 Islanders who started college in 2012, the Clearinghouse said only 10 were still in school a year later.
Shelter Island School tracks its graduates, and Mr. Skuggevik’s numbers show that five of 21 college-bound students in 2010 didn’t finish their studies. Three of those are gainfully employed; he lacks information on the other two.
In 2011, three of 13 were no longer on track to finish their college studies, but two are working and the other is a part-time college student. In 2012, only one of 11 college-bound graduates didn’t finish and is about to go back to pursue a degree, he said.
What’s most significant to Mr. Skuggevik are the steps taken by former Superintendent Michael Hynes and efforts he’s now making to ensure that students are getting the best possible preparation for their futures — whether that means college or a job.
There’s a tendency to make students who don’t pursue college degrees feel inferior, Mr. Skuggevik said.
That shouldn’t be the case. For some students, their interests lie in vocations for which they would benefit from internships and apprenticeships more than a college degree.
New York State education officials are now “wising up” and talking not just about preparing students for college but also getting them “career ready,” Mr. Skuggevik said.
“Find out what you love and do that for the rest of your life,” he said. “Then it’s not work.”
There are many factors that play into a student’s decision not to go to college or to quit before finishing, the superintendent added, and not just a sometimes rocky emotional adjustment to leaving home. For one thing, the cost of higher education today means students may take on $200,000 in debt and then can’t find a job when they get their degrees.
“That’s kind of scary,” he said.
Among the steps Dr. Hynes implemented was the process of comprehensive oral exams for seniors, helping prepare them to speak in public, but also to advocate for themselves, whether it’s with college officials, teachers or employers. That’s something Mr. Skuggevik plans to carry forward.
He’s also implementing a program to include college visits as part of other field trips and is setting up an exchange program with Longwood High School. His students will have the opportunity to pair up for a day with a Longwood student in that large district, while Longwood students will spend a day with Shelter Island students here to get a feel for the more personal interaction students typically have with their teachers and administrators on the Island.
“We’re very lucky with the individual attention we can give here,” Mr. Skuggevik said.
He’s also contacting community groups to create more opportunities for students to participate in community service. He spoke with the Lions Club recently, encouraging members to let him know when opportunities happen.
When students see the responses they get from those they help, “it melts their hearts,” Mr. Skuggevik said.
As for his own transition from Greenport, where he was secondary school principal, to Shelter Island as superintendent, he said, “It’s nice to walk into a place that already has direction.”