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Superintendent: School district an A in every single way

SALEM –The overall report card grade says C, but Salem City Schools Superintendent Sean Kirkland said the effort put in by students, teachers, administrators, support staff and parents is an A, all the way.

“Assigning a letter grade of C to Salem City Schools isn’t indicative of the hard work put in every day. We’re an A district in every single way,” he said, adding that a C is “not who Salem is, that’s not what Salem will be, ever.”

He also said the district will stay the course with initiatives put in place over the last few years to help students improve, noting that there are signs they’re working, despite the fact that the district’s overall grade didn’t change from last year to this year.

The state report cards released Thursday graded districts in six areas: achievement, which takes into account student performance on state tests; progress, which measures a student’s growth based on past performance; gap closing, which looks at how well schools are meeting expectations for the most vulnerable students; graduation rate, for the percentage of students finishing within four or five years; improving at-risk K-3 readers, looking at the success at improving at-risk readers in kindergarten through third grade; and prepared for success, looking at how well prepared students are for success in the future.

Salem improved letter grades in four of the six components, improving from a C to a B in gap closing, from C to B in graduation rate, from D to B in improving at-risk K-3 readers and from F to D in prepared for success. Progress stayed at B and achievement stayed at D. Under achievement, Salem’s performance index improved from 72.9 percent to 74 percent for a C, with the indicators met remaining at F for meeting just four out of 24. Indicators met looks at the percentage of students passing state tests in the different subjects at different grade levels, using 80 percent as the cutoff to meet the indicator.

Kirkland said the district is moving up in the percentages. He pointed out that when the state changed the benchmark to 80 percent from 75 percent, that affected the number of indicators met. He would like to see the district meet more of the indicators, but he looked at another area district which met 15 indicators and their grade didn’t really change.

“I look at the percentages trending up and we’re happy about that,” he said.

In looking at the data and districts of a similar size, he said Salem is beating them in many categories and that’s promising. He also said with the indicators, Salem is above the state averages and similar-sized districts for the percentages.

“That to me is very exciting. We’re very comfortable in what we’re doing,” he said.

For areas where the district improved, especially the at-risk K-3 readers where the district improved immensely, Kirkland credited changes made in literacy programs, math curriculum and science curriculum, saying the district is reaping the benefits of those initiatives. He said the signs of success are a collaborative effort of the parents, students, teachers, support staff and administration.

“We know we’re headed in the right direction,” Kirkland said.

West Branch improving

West Branch Local Schools have continued to show immense progress, earning a B overall and an A in progress, as well as a B in Gap Closing, which shows how well schools are meeting the performance expectations of the most vulnerable students.

“Overall, I am pleased with the results of the current report card indicators, however that does not allow us to sit back and coast. We need to keep working on all areas because there is room for improvement, especially in the areas where it is needed most,” Timothy Saxton, superintendent of West Branch Local Schools, said in a press release.

Over the past several years the district has utilized academic coaches in mathematics and literacy.

“We believe that their collaboration with our teaching staff has made a huge difference in both the Gap Closing and Progress components of the district report card,” said Saxton.

(Staff Writer Kevin Howell contributed to this story)

mgreier@salemnews.net / khowell@salemnews.net

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