Let it be known, the editorial board here at the Reformer is never too proud to be willing to admit when a mistake has been made. In a recent editorial, we painted a grim view of our local schools using limited statistics, an opinion several Windham County educators took us to task for it.
The editorial in question -- "We can do better" -- ran in the July 31 edition of the paper. In that piece, we used a recent report from U.S. News & World Report, which listed the Best High Schools 2013 Rankings.
"Teaming up with Washington, D.C., -based American Institute for Research," we wrote, "U.S. News analyzed 21,035 public high schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia ... California performed the best, followed by Maryland and Connecticut. Vermont came in at a respectable eighth place, with nine silver medal schools and five bronze medal schools. The report made special note of Vermont's high school graduation rate of roughly 90 percent, one of the highest rates in the nation."
All good news, to be sure. However, when you dug a little deeper into those figures, Windham County school did not "fair so well" according to the report.
As a subsequent guest editorial from the Twin Valley School Board of Directors (Aug. 6) later pointed out, "the editorial refers to 2011 data rather than 2012 data." And their piece, along with a later meeting with Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Ron Stahley, shows us that we didn't paint a full enough picture of the great strides and efforts taking place in Windham County schools.
"Vermont has a traditionally high value in education," Stahley told the editorial board last week. "When you look at a limited number of indicators, skewed with the national numbers, it's not going to reflect the full picture. ... Looking at multiple measures is the best way to judge a school's success."
While the U.S. News report used figures from the 2010-11 school year, much more recent data was also available. And when considering how our schools are serving the future leaders of our country, those test scores are best considered with other offerings being provided to today's students.
-- Vermont always ranks in the top tier of the National Assessment of Educational Progress reports, and our schools continue to show improvement (for the most part) in Annual Yearly Progress results. Earlier this month, five Windham County public schools were recognized by the Vermont Agency of Education for making progress on standardized tests, and for showing a commitment to continuous improvement. Those schools were Bellows Falls Union High School, Twin Valley High School, Wardsboro Central School and the Dover and Windham elementary schools. Great job!
"It is clear that many schools are making significant improvement, and just as important are committed to continuing to aim higher,"Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca told the Reformer following the release of the most recent results.
-- How about the recent student leadership conference held at SIT Graduate Institute? Programs such as this continue to engage local students and help build stronger school communities.
-- Or consider the almost 40 classes now offered at the Career Center and at BUHS, for students from all over the county, in which students can earn college level credit on a variety of subjects. Those credits are currently accepted at 68 colleges.
It seems clear, the goal of our local and state high schools has never changed: To prepare students for life after high school. But unlike 20, 30 or even 50 years ago, there are a lot more challenges facing students after graduation. And while many students may need more than a high school diploma, some just won't be able to go on to earn a four-year college degree.
"If we can get these kids a year's worth of college credit, while they're still in high school," Stahley said, "it will create multiple results. It will save families a lot of money. It makes for a better transition to college or a technical institution. And it will also let those students who may be apprehensive about ‘making it' in college know that they can do college work."
Well, when looking at the full picture, it's more than clear Windham County educators are doing all they can (and sometimes more) to help students succeed.
As one final point, we'd just like to reiterate the main crux of our original editorial. It was never our intent to criticize specific schools or cast blame on the educators in those schools. "Anyone who has ever taken the time to visit or engage in any of these schools can attest that we have great teachers who are working hard to educate our children."
More so, we wanted to point out that everyone in the community bares responsibility for the performance of its schools -- including parents, businesses and community leaders as well as the teachers and school administrators. Our school leaders and educators do a lot, and can always use all the help they can get.