Three district schools score high in ratings

Three Independent School District 834 Title 1 elementary schools have gained the Celebration Schools designation under the new Minnesota school rating system, board members learned Thursday.

Afton-Lakeland, Lake Elmo and Oak Park Elementary schools placed in the top percentile of schools in the rating system. Title 1 schools receive additional federal funds based on enrollment and percentage of free and reduced lunch programs. Celebration schools fall just under the top 15 percent of Title 1 schools in the state.

The new system, the Multiple Measurement Rating, was put in place after the No Child Left Behind Law was waived for Minnesota due to under-performance across the state when it came to meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards.

“Because the No Child Left Behind act is gone from Minnesota we don’t need to worry about financial set asides and it also provides more information regarding growth,” said Dr. Mary Anderson, director of elementary education. “Growth is a great way of looking at our performance and it helps us look at the achievement gaps between subgroups of students.”

The new system does not have financial penalties to school districts and the money stays in the school to provide services to students.

According to Chris Balow, coordinator of student performance and assessment, the rating system is based on a point system of 75 points and the school designations are determined by a percentage of points received in each category. The system allows school districts to see the points earned and helps with the breakdown of the points to indicate where the district needs work.

The categories include focusing on growth for all students, closing the achievement gap, gaining proficiency in math and reading, and graduation rate.

“What we’re finding with our rating is that the growth for our higher end students not growing beyond the average score, and our groups of low-income and special education students are not closing the achievement gap. We’re currently looking at a way to get past this,” Balow said. “The good news is that about 85 percent of our students are on track to gaining proficiency in reading and math.”

Anderson and Balow said they hope to cut the achievement gap by 5 percent in the next six years.

“The new rating is a good thing it gets at the areas in education that we need to focus on and will help with all the work we’ve been doing.” Anderson said.

Also at the meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Business and Administrative Services Ray Queener gave a presentation about the first day of school. He said no issues were reported with transportation and enrollment remains stable.

Current enrollment is 8,643 students and Queener said although there was a decrease of 48 students from last year, there was an increase of 192 students from what was projected. The increased enrollment led to increased staffing. A kindergarten staffer was hired for Withrow, and second and fifth grades at Lake Elmo added a full-time teacher while Stonebridge added an additional teacher in math and reading. Other staff could be added to the secondary schools after the enrollment numbers are finalized on Oct. 1.

Activities and athletics involvement has increased despite fee changes. A second date has been added to elementary school conferences and an evening date was added to the junior high. Queener said the district was looking into more student-directed conferences as well.

Other items discussed at both the learning session and the board meeting included:

Director of Operations Dennis Bloom presented the upcoming project list for fiscal year 2013. Most of the projects and maintenance take place at Stillwater Area High School, withotal costs come in at $1,573,500. The improvements include replacing the northeast bus entrance, the 1993 synthetic gym floor, a partial roof replacement and replacing the water-damaged ceiling in E wing. The Oak-Land Junior High School tennis court will also be replaced. While other routine work will be done at the other schools in the district.

Lori Brink gave a presentation about the new Early Childhood Family Center. A grand opening ceremony takes place on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon and she invited the public to come and see it.

The school board and superintendent goals for this school year were presented. The categories include foster a culture of continuous improvement; build positive relationships and connections; develop team and leadership capacity; engage and educate the public; and align plans, goals and processes.