Guest view: Your help contributed to student achievement

November 3, 2013 

This year in Belleville Township High School District 201, we are fortunate to be able to report improvements in student achievement as measured by the PSAE. Our efforts were intentional with the goal of continuous, sustainable school improvement.

A vital part of the success is the relationship between our schools and our communities. After the BND printed an article about the achievement gap in January 2012, the positive response was overwhelming. Issues about race can be difficult, but the communities we serve responded in a positive way. I received calls, letters, emails, messages and kind words from many people, not only in our communities but neighboring communities throughout the region. The responses were positive, offers of help and advice -- not criticism.

Many people gave their time to act as mentors and tutors. Some helped build relationships with students and parents. Others acted as advisers to teachers and administrators. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to talk with so many individuals from all walks of life about how we can make a difference.

The efforts of our students, parents, teachers, administrators, Board of Education, support staff and community have lessened the impact of the role that poverty plays in a student's academic achievement. Positive relationships developed with students are vital for success.

We are fortunate to work with many great students from families who value education. The vast majority of our students come to school each day prepared to learn and choose to take advantage of the wide range of opportunities at our high schools. These young people have helped in many ways to make this district a better place.

The improvement in test scores is a direct result of our students responding to motivating teachers who use a variety of innovative, researched-based instructional techniques along with proven, timeless methods. Technology is a great tool that effective teachers use to enhance learning, but the single most important factor in the classroom is the teacher.

I am often amazed at the abilities of our teachers to make professional assessments during class and intuitively change instruction to meet the needs of individual students. Our teachers have made a concerted effort to improve outcomes for students. They identified areas requiring improvement and developed new and innovative programs to provide intervention. For example, students who take advantage of regular tutoring are starting to make gains.

Our Board of Education strives to make efficient use of our resources while encouraging innovation and high expectations. Our administrative team worked closely with staff to eliminate obstacles for students and teachers. They have worked with teachers to design programs that provide extra opportunities for students who need additional support. The alternative day and night programs serve as resources for students who require a route to graduation that might differ from our traditional path.

Teachers, students, support staff, administrators, parents and community members worked together to improve the achievement of all students. I think it is important to mention the effect a group of African-American young men had on their school. They listened as adults talked about the achievement gap. Finally, we listened to them. They told us they wanted to mentor younger students. They told us that some African-American males felt that excelling in school made them look bad in the eyes of their peers. Many of these young men who became mentors to younger African-American students came from families who did not accept that notion. With the help of adults who also acted as mentors, success in school became an expectation.

We made progress; however, we still have a great deal of work to do to eliminate this gap. A student's race or income level should not be a determining factor in success in school. The emphasis on eliminating the achievement gap taught us the importance of high expectations.

As you can see from the test scores in reading and math, our students were able to improve the scores in each subcategory. Our expectations for improvement are directed at all students, not just a particular subgroup of students.

To be clear, the improvements on our report card are one measure of our schools. They represent short-term growth. Long-term student achievement growth is a priority in District 201. The improvements this year are a step in the right direction. We will continue to work hard to address challenges in our schools.

To view the report cards for Belleville East, Belleville West and District 201, please visit www.bths201.org.

Jeff Dosier is superintendent of Belleville Township High School District 201.

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