IDOE school grades highlight successes at MCS

Publish Date: 12/20/2013
IDOE school grades released recently are more evidence that Marion Community Schools is making giant strides in academic achievement.
MCS schools earned four “A”s and “B”s for the 2012-13 school year – up from zero in the 2011-12 school year. Overall, the district earned a "C" for the 2012-13 school year – up from an "F" the year before.
“We are so proud of our teachers, staff, and administrators, our students and families,” said MCS Superintendent Brad Lindsay. “These score cards reflect the important work that has gone before us in the 2012-13 academic year (and even earlier), and we applaud and thank the Marion team for the extra-mile efforts that produced these improved results.”
Halfway through his first year as superintendent of Marion Community Schools, Lindsay said it’s abundantly clear that the foundation is in place for continued success and growth.
“The right culture is in place in our schools,” he said. “We have caring, devoted, committed staff members. We have an intentional focus on learning. We have student-friendly, personalized instruction. We are now performing among the best of Indiana schools, and even more giant things are yet to come.”
Student success = school success
It’s that focus on individual students that has paid dividends, said Michele Kelsay, principal of Riverview Elementary School, one of the schools that earned in “A” – up from a “C” in 2011-12.
Key to the school’s success, she said, is that teachers and staff are zeroing in on individual students’ specific needs. Multiple assessment tools help gauge those needs, monitor progress, and tailor instruction strategies, she said.
“This grade reflects a lot of hard work by everyone involved – teachers and staff, students, and parents,” she said. “We’re very excited that all of that work came together, and we’re very proud of our ‘A’ rating.”
At Kendall Elementary School, which earned an “A” rating for the third time in four years, Principal David Khalouf had similar praise.
“We definitely have to recognize that the fourth-graders last year were a big part of our success, with the hard work they put in to score as well as they did on ISTEP,” he said.
That group of students improved their math ISTEP passage rate by nearly 11 percentage points above their performance as third-graders the year before. They boosted their English/language arts passage rate by nearly 7 percentage points in the same time period.
“Overall we know that the work being done in kindergarten through fourth grade contributes to our students’ success, and all of our teachers’ use of data to drive their instruction is key,” Khalouf said. “We want to specifically congratulate and thank last year’s fourth-grade team for really driving home this use of student data to target specific student needs.”
He said the efforts of the whole Kendall family – teachers, staff, administrators, students, and parents – are what made this success possible.
“We know that it’s a collaborative effort, and we appreciate all of those who helped earn this ‘A’,” Khalouf said, noting that they’re all looking forward to this year’s ISTEP to continue the tradition of excellence.
At Frances Slocum Elementary School, too, it was significant gains in ISTEP+ passage rates helped push the school to a “B” in 2012-13, up from an “F” in 2011-12.
Last school year, fourth-graders at Frances Slocum improved their ISTEP+ passage rate in math by nearly 30 percentage points compared to their third-grade performance in 2011-12, and improved their English/language arts passage rate by nearly 20 percentage points over the same time period.
At the time of the release of those scores in September, then-Principal Melissa Jessup said it validated the process of looking at student data closely and consistently and making sure the right interventions ad research-based instructional strategies were in place.
The school is so grateful for support from the community, including outstanding efforts by College Wesleyan Church’s Kids Hope mentors, who work with students and their families, has been key to Frances Slocum’s success.
A recent gift from Dollar General – an amazing $40,000 to fund literacy initiatives – is another exciting example of the community support that will enable continued growth at Frances Slocum.
MHS marks milestone
Marion High School earned the district’s other “B” – continuing its steady progress after years on academic probation and even threat of state takeover.
“It’s amazing to see how far the high school has come,” said Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Instruction Amy Rauch. “This ‘B’ reflects the dedication and hard work of teachers and administrators, along with the students and also the community.”
MHS Principal Lennon Brown expressed pride as well.
“I am extremely proud of our students and our faculty and their effort in moving our school forward,” he said. “This shows the reality of what hard work, caring and consideration can do.”
But, he emphasized, Marion High School did not reach this milestone alone. He credited support from various organizations that stepped forward and asked how they could help, as well as work by various groups, including the Friends of Marion and the Parent Involvement Committee, the increasingly active PTO, and assistance from clergy and churches in the community.
“As it’s said, ‘It takes a village,’” Brown said. “The village has spoken, and for all of this I am extremely thankful.”
He also expressed gratitude for all those who work behind the scenes at the school, the administrative staff, and support from district leaders.
“Our work, however, is not done,” he said. “To stay where we are and to move higher, we must continue to work enthusiastically, to continue what we’ve done and more.”
MHS is solidly a top-tier high school, Superintendent Lindsay said.
“From our graduation rate – which at 95 percent is higher than the state rate – to the fact that 65 percent of the Class of 2014 is expected to graduate with at least one college credit already earned via our AP and dual credit offerings, to our outstanding athletics, performing arts, JROTC, and other clubs and activities,” he said, “there’s just no question that we’re providing best-in-class opportunities for our students.”
Progress seen at all schools
The district’s total number of “F”s dropped from four in the 2011-12 school year to only one for the 2012-13 school year.
And even in these lower letter grades, there’s evidence of growth. Justice Intermediate School and McCulloch Junior High School both improved from “F”s in 2011-12 to “D”s in 2012-13.
Allen Elementary School is the only school that remained in the “F” range.
At Allen, there has been a huge culture shift, Superintendent Lindsay noted, fueled in part by extra resources sent the school’s way by the IDOE last summer.
This school year, and continuing for two more academic years, a 1003(g) school improvement grant – federal funds directed by the Indiana Department of Education to high-priority schools – is helping fund significant interventions at Allen. Technology improvements and a partnership with EdisonLearning are among the changes these extra resources have made possible.
“We are being intentional with the way we are utilizing these extra resources at Allen,” said Superintendent Lindsay, “and we believe the changes we are making are producing results.”
The bottom line, he said, is that MCS will continue to support the things that are working, but won’t shy away from changing the things that aren’t, at Allen and across the district.
Allen Principal Anthony Williams – who took the helm at the school this school year – echoed that sentiment.
“The ‘F’ wasn’t unexpected, and we’re not pleased, but we’ve taken steps from the first day of school to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “We’ve acknowledged from day one that this would be our focus.”
He said support from every level – the state, the school district, Allen leadership, teachers, and the community – has been key to making the ongoing changes possible.
Williams emphasized a “very strong” intervention process that is allowing staff to get to the root of individual students’ issues, whether they be academic, behavioral, or social, and to tailor strategies to help them address those issues – and then track progress.
At McCulloch Junior High School, partnerships are also key to continued improvement.
Partnerships with education and business experts, spurred by participation in the Indiana Leadership Academy at Indiana University, are already paying dividends at the school. The ILA brought business and education experts together to take an intensive look at the school’s challenges, using turnaround models from the business world as the source of ideas and possible solutions.
The school earned a “D” for the 2012-13 school year, up from an “F” in 2011-12.
“The gains we’ve made are incredible,” said McCulloch Principal Jim Fox, “but the success we have ahead of us will be something previously unseen.”
Through participation in the ILA, school leaders have determined a great need at McCulloch is a renewed focus on a major issue for many of its students: reading skills.
“We have a clear vision, a clear timeline, and we will be communicating with parents so they can be arm-in-arm with us as we continue to advance,” Fox said.
He credited the “phenomenal” teachers at McCulloch for the school’s improvement.
“It all goes right back to instruction in the classroom,” he said.
And that will only continue to improve, he said, with great opportunities for professional development that are arising from the partnerships spurred by the ILA.
At Justice Intermediate School, a partnership with EdisonLearning during the 2012-13 school year laid the groundwork for continuing growth, Principal Melissa Richards said.
The school earned a “D” for the 2012-13 school year – Richards first as Justice principal. That’s up from an “F” in 2011-12.
“We were disappointed we didn’t get to a ‘C’,” she said. “But we know change takes time, and although we’re not happy with a ‘D’, we’re happy with growth.”
Last year was a time of major change at Justice.
“Any time you have a change in leadership, then you bring in a partner like Edison, getting everybody on the same page and working together is a process,” Richards said.
But the work with Edison gave local leaders a different perspective, she said, noting the school would continue to benefit from the work with Edison for years to come.
Richards emphasized the change in culture at the school, pointing to the fact that the number of discipline referrals was cut in half from 2011-12 to 2012-13.
“We’ve built a community of learners,” she said. “Now the next step is taking a deeper look at curriculum and teaching strategies. It’s all a process. Being better takes time. We’re going to keep doing the things that we know make us better.