IDOE ratings confirm MCS is at all-time high

Publish Date: 11/06/2014
Marion Community Schools continues its rise into the ranks of the state’s best schools, and is thrilled to be celebrating an “A” rating from the IDOE at Marion High School, and at Riverview Elementary School.

The overall corporation-wide grade for Marion Community Schools rose to a “B” for the 2013-14 school year, and for the first time since school accountability grades have been given by the state Department of Education, MCS has no schools at the academic probation or letter grade “F”.

Justice Intermediate School also received a “B” rating, just shy of an "A", according to IDOE information.

“Our district grade of ‘B’ — our highest ever — demonstrates that our team is working together to draw out the best from our students and each other,” MCS Superintendent Brad Lindsay said. “At our elementary schools, we are putting best practices in place and preparing our young students for success at the intermediate level. At Justice Intermediate, we are preparing students well for success in junior high. At McCulloch Junior High, we are preparing students well for success at Marion High School. At MHS and Tucker Career and Technology Center, we are preparing our students to graduate college-, career-, and life-ready. Our entire MCS team understands that we must treat our students well before teaching them well, and this district grade of ‘B’ demonstrates that we are succeeding at both.”

The “A” rating at Marion High School is evidence of the culminating success of that team effort.

“The high school transformation story that is being written is inspirational,” Lindsay said, noting that he is thankful for the opportunities his own daughters have as students at MHS. “It takes a team, and that is exactly what is happening: our students, faculty, staff, administrators, board, and community are pulling together to provide our students our very best. This is a positive success story for not only Marion High School, but for the greater community of Marion as well.”

This latest marker of success at Marion High School comes on the heels of national recognition that put it in the top 27 percent of high schools in the country: a bronze medal award in the U.S. News and World Report’s list of the nation’s best high schools.

The accolades come after years of teamwork between administrators, teachers, staff, and various community groups and organizations. The “A” reflects tough decisions made and decisive action taken over the past few years, but the bottom line, according to MHS Principal Lennon Brown, comes down to personal actions and attitudes.

“When the rubber hits the road, this represents the hard work and dedication of an incredible staff and student body,” he said. “We couldn’t claim any of these accomplishments without them.”

Riverview Elementary School earned its second straight “A” (and its third “A” in four years), and Principal Michele Kelsay said that’s the result of a lot of hard work by teachers, students, and parents.

“Teachers work tirelessly to find out exactly what each student needs. They take the time to identify the skill deficits and fill in those gaps,” she said, noting that the staff regularly reviews student data and uses it to tailor instruction and interventions to their needs.

The back-to-back “A” ratings reaffirm the success of the systems in place, Kelsay said.

“We have set processes that we go through to ensure we stay on the right course,” she said, including weekly collaboration and professional development meetings with teachers, specific reading and math strategies in place school-wide, and the Response to Instruction process that brings a team together to address individual students’ needs.

One key to success, according to Kelsay: “We have high expectations for all students and adults.”

She said they continue to meet challenges head-on, implementing what’s working for students, and improving what’s not.

“I am so proud of all of our Riverview team — teachers, staff, students, and families. We will work hard to continue the tradition of excellence at Riverview Elementary!”

Lindsay echoed those sentiments.

“Riverview is a great example of good-better-best, and never letting it rest,” Lindsay said. “Accomplishing a letter grade of ‘A’ is awesome, but back-to-back ‘A’s mean that as good as you already were, you have continued to get even better! This is a testimony that Team Riverview has institutionalized practices that work. They’ve developed a winning culture, with a winning attitude and winning teamwork. They are focused on continuous improvement and best possible, and they are intentional with individual student and cohort growth. They are true leaders in learning.”

The advancement at Justice Intermediate School, from an “F” in 2011-12, to a “D” in 2012-13, to a “B” in 2013-14, is reflective of the change in culture inside that school.

“I am so proud of this staff,” said Justice Principal Melissa Richards, who is in her third year leading the school. “It was tough in the beginning. There was a culture of failure. We started focusing on the positive — what the teachers were doing right, what the students were doing right — and it became a culture of success and high expectations.”

Now, she said, the IDOE rating reflects what they all knew all along.

“I told them early on: ‘This is not an ‘F’ school,’” she said. “‘You are not ‘F’ teachers. These are not F students!’”

McCulloch Junior High School’s “C” for 2013-14 brings it off of academic probation/watch, and MCS believes a partnership with Indiana Wesleyan University and STI, funded by a multi-year school improvement grant awarded by the IDOE, has the potential to make the school a model for turnaround efforts.

“We’re very proud that McCulloch Junior High School is no longer a ‘D’ and is now a ‘C’. Team McCulloch has worked very hard. Our McCulloch team cares and invests into our students, and we are very proud of the improvement our team is making,” Lindsay said.

Change is also being propelled by a separate multi-year school improvement grant awarded by the IDOE at Allen Elementary School, which raised to a “D” in the 2013-14 school year, up from an “F” the year before. District and school administrators and staff are dedicated to continued improvements there, and a palpable shift in the culture within the building is already clear. With the support of families and community, this year can be Allen’s breakthrough year.

“Allen Elementary is on the rise,” Lindsay said. “There is a foundational culture for learning in place, and with our dedicated, talented and determined staff, we expect there are giant things to come this year and beyond.” 

Kendall Elementary School’s 2013-14 grade was “C”. Frances Slocum Elementary School’s was a “D”.

Both schools’ ratings are down from the previous year, and Lindsay emphasized the importance of that longer view.

“Kendall Elementary is consistently a high-performing school, with three ‘A’s in the past five years,” he said. “It is a safe, healthy, and exciting school for our students to learn and enjoy. And at Frances Slocum Elementary, the culture of caring, the culture of community, the culture of meaningful partnerships is in place. Our Slocum team teaches to the whole child and is ready to make the climb toward being a consistently high-performing school.”

Brenda McVicker, MCS director of elementary education, noted that the data behind the rating is revealing, as well.

“We can see cohort growth in nearly every area,” said Brenda McVicker, MCS director of elementary education. “That’s across the district, in every building. The state’s formula for calculating school ratings sometimes does not reflect that growth as clearly as the data on individual students does.”

The state’s current A-F rating system is based in part on penalties or awards based on how much students progress as compared with similar peer groups. But state lawmakers have mandated a calculation of individual student growth, not a comparison. State leaders are in the process of determining the details of how such a system would work.

“We’ll continue to strive to meet state goals, but meeting individual student needs is part of our regular, day-in, day-out process,” McVicker said.

There is much for the schools and community to take pride in, Lindsay said.

“I believe in and am proud of our faculty, staff, and administrators across our district. In every building, our people are working purposefully to provide our students their very best,” he said. “I’m thankful for the parents who have chosen Marion Community Schools to educate their precious children. We count that as a high privilege, and we understand that parental and community support is essential to our students’ success.”

The success of Marion Community Schools is intertwined with the community’s support and success..

“We are thankful for the community of Marion, which has rallied around our schools,” Lindsay said, “making education and our students a priority, and helping us to serve a cause that is greater than our individual selves, which is our children, our community, and our future.”