Suffolk has too many falling stars

Published 8:22 pm Wednesday, September 23, 2009

There has been a lot of hype from the Suffolk Public Schools about how our schools are progressing. Last week we celebrated the fact that all of our schools have been fully accredited. Of course, we expect that, at a minimum.

Another report in the Suffolk News Herald report on August 13, stated that 12 of the 21 schools in the SPS system had failed to meet the benchmarks established by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The superintendent, Dr. Milton Liverman, declared that every student is a star. I agree with him wholeheartedly. The same must be said for each school. However, I view each school and student as either a rising star or a falling star.

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To help see which was which, I reviewed some test data published by the National Center for Education and the U.S. Department of Education.

Let us look at how our elementary schools fared.

Only 4 schools were in the top 48 percent of Virginia’s 1,050 public elementary schools. The rest were in the bottom 25 percent.

Mack Benn Junior and Elephant’s Fork were ranked 1,000th and 1,036th, respectively, putting them in the lowest 5 percent. Sadly, each school’s ranking decreased significantly from the previous year. In fact, five of 12 Suffolk elementary schools ranked lower in 2009 than in 2008.

The top three schools are Driver (282nd), Southwestern (342nd), and Northern Shores (350th), which dropped 121 spots from 2008. A contender for the school of the year is Kilby Shores, because its ranking of 484 was up by 416 places from 2008.

Mount Zion, under sanction this school year, due to the No Child Left Behind Act, moved up 61 notches to 820 in the rankings. Oakland, ranked 896 dropped a whopping 228. This decline indicates that help is needed.

There are 324 middle schools in the state, with four in Suffolk, where all except King’s Fork lost ground from the previous year. John Yeates ranked 187 (in the top 60 percent) but its ranking plummeted by 89 spots from 2008.

There were 319 high schools ranked. All three of our high schools tested in the lowest 25 percent bracket. King’s Fork gained 15 spots in ranking, but the rest went downhill.

Overall, of the 19 schools in our survey, there are 10 falling stars (more than 50 percent) and nine rising stars.

Based on the testing performance of its schools, the Suffolk system ranked 89th of 120 Virginia school divisions in 2009.

School spokespersons say that our children are graduating and going to college, so we must be doing okay. However, this can be said by the lowest-ranked school division in the state. There are exceptional students who would do well in any school system.

Another popular reply is that teachers and administrators are doing the best they can. When I hear that, I am reminded of what coach Mack Benn Jr. told a potential all-state basketball player a few years ago. Benn, who loved the boy like a son, took him out of a close game. The boy asked, “Coach, why did you take me out? I was doing the best I could!” Coach Benn replied, “That is why I took you out, son, because your best was not good enough tonight.”

A similar approach may be needed for the entire school system. If their best is not good enough, then some changes should be made, regardless of their love and concern for each other. Often, the friendships that develop over a period of time hinder the growth and movement of teachers and staff or event their release.

All ranks are courtesy of SchoolDigger.com and are computed based on the most recent test scores for the individual public schools in Virginia for math and English.

Many argue that test scores are not the best way to rank schools. Perhaps not, but they are a valid indicator of how our children are performing in critical subjects that are needed in almost any chosen field of life.

Nobody should be content with our school system’s low ranking among the state’s public school systems.

Benchmarks need to be set and adhered to for the whole school system. Superintendent Liverman wants the parents and public to spur him on in his duties. He needs a lot of help. Otherwise, the system may linger in the status quo, continuing to have a high percentage of falling, not rising, stars.