By BRIAN WHISTON
Dearborn Schools Superintendent
By now many of you have had a chance to review the recently released data from the state of Michigan pertaining to school rankings. The information provides us with both news to celebrate and news that raises concern.
First, I am pleased to announce several success stories. Eight schools in the district achieved the Reward School designation. These schools are among the top 5 percent of schools in the state on the annual Top-to-Bottom ranking of all Michigan schools, as well as the top 5 percent of schools making the greatest academic progress over the previous four years. I congratulate Becker, Geer Park, Henry Ford Early College, Howard, Lindbergh, Long, Maples, and McCollough Elementary for achieving the Reward School status. In addition, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy recognized top schools in the state of which seven of the 57 top schools are Dearborn schools.
I also want to commend DuVall Elementary School, Bryant Middle School, and Fordson High School for their efforts in closing the achievement gap between the highest performing 30 percent of students and lowest performing 30 percent of students. Their work has moved them off this year’s Focus School list.
One school appears on the Priority School list, Edsel Ford High School. I do not take lightly the ramifications this designation has on our district. This is our problem to fix and we will. To make it happen it will take dedicated staff, a plan based on data, research, and best practices, and a supportive community.
The Priority School designation for Edsel Ford does not mean the school is failing, that the staff is not doing their job, or that the students cannot achieve. The ranking is based on two to four years of Michigan Merit Exam data (11th-grade students taking the state standardized test) and graduation rates (2009-12). Although Edsel did see gains in MME test scores, comparing 2012 to 2013, their overall state ranking declined over a four-year period.
The state requires the district to select one of four reform/redesign models in order to bring about academic success. We have selected the Transformation Model and will take the following actions to address the concerns at Edsel Ford:
• Submit a redesign plan to the state.
• Provide additional support to the school from the district, intermediate school district and Michigan State University to better understand the school’s strengths and weaknesses by looking at achievement data in order to make changes in how instruction is delivered.
• Continue to implement the State Superintendent’s Drop-Out Challenge and continue to provide the support of a full time Graduation Intervention Specialist to assist students at-risk of dropping out of school.
• Extend the school day by 60 minutes per day, four days a week, providing students with focused instruction in reading, math and science or extended learning opportunities, depending on their needs.
• Provide staff with 60 minutes, one day per week to extend their learning on best practices to improve student achievement.
• Assign a math and literacy coordinator to work exclusively at Edsel Ford.
As mentioned, Edsel Ford did see gains in MME scores from 2012 to 2013. We are confident the steps we are taking this year, combined with the continuation and expansion of initiatives put in place last year, will continue to bring about gains in achievement.
As educators our goal, our work, our passion is to ensure each child will be academically successful. When we fall short we must own up to that, fix the problem, and make sure that it doesn’t happen again. When we succeed at educating our students we must take pride in our actions, celebrate, and share our strategies so that our success can be replicated in classrooms across the district.
I am not ready, nor should anyone in our community be ready, “to throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Overall our district has made much progress to improve student achievement. For the past several years we have seen academic gains at all grade levels. Over the years, several of our students have gone on to attend Ivy League schools. Last June a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Michigan was turned down so the student could go to Harvard. Thousands of Dearborn graduates are attending universities in our state and across the country. Graduation rates are up, our new Collegiate Academy has started, and the district has received full accreditation from AdvancED, one of the oldest and most prestigious accreditation institutions in the country.
There is plenty to celebrate but there is also much work to do. We start each school year with new challenges; this one is more than we ever wanted. However, by continuing to believe that all students can learn, having confidence in the knowledge of our staff, and continuing to partner with our community we will be successful.