LAWRENCE (CBS) – It’s better late than never for Brandon Difo and it’s a good sign for Lawrence public schools as well.

Difo will finally graduate from Lawrence High School Friday after dropping out three times.

“It’s been a very bumpy road to be honest,” he told WBZ NewsRadio 1030. “I entered high school back in 2010. All along it’s been kind of weird. Back then I didn’t believe in myself like I do now.”

Difo, now 20 years old, will get his diploma because he was welcomed back to school under a program that gives students multiple chances to graduate.

“One day I was just looking at all my friends and everybody around me had diplomas. All I told myself was, if they can do it, why can’t I? And then all of a sudden I really started missing school and I became really impatient. I couldn’t live with myself without having that diploma,” he said.

Lawrence went into state receivership five years ago with a 52-percent graduation rate. It’s 72-percent now.

“We went from a school district where about half of the students graduated in four years to now almost three-quarters do. Our graduation rate increase is almost 20-plus points. It’s the best of any urban district in Massachusetts over the last five-plus years,” Lawrence superintendent Jeff Riley told WBZ.

“Where we started first is looking at the students and why they were dropping out. Then we went to find them and see if we could reconnect them back into the school system, offer them credit recovery, offer them alternative pathways to get to high school graduation and get some gains there.”

Difo gives credit to several of his teachers, especially those in math and English.

“I couldn’t do it, if it wasn’t for a few teachers I had,” he told WBZ. “They were on top of me, telling me never to give up.”

“I think kids do want to come back and they do want to finish school. (But) oftentimes there’s a lot going on in a student’s life and they feel overwhelmed by the process. We’ve got great people working in the district that go out into the neighborhoods, talk to kids, talk to their families and create a plan without judgement of anything’s that happened in the past to try to get kids to the finish line,” Riley said.

“A lot of our students now are doing post-secondary options. We have a new program with both Northern Essex Community College and Merrimack College where our students will be able to get early college classes while they’re in high school.”

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Deb Lawler talks to Jeff Riley


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