January 25, 2017

Priority Status


Vanderbilt Area School received a very important phone call last Friday morning. The State of Michigan was in the process of releasing the 2015–2016 School Report Cards at 11 a.m. and the State School Reform Office had an important phone call for VAS. Vanderbilt Area School became a Priority School in 2012, so a plan had to be developed to show how the school would improve its academics. An original plan was submitted to the State, and beginning with the 2012–2013 school year, VAS was a Priority School.

Last year as the school entered its fourth year, rumors persisted that the school would close because of the Priority School status. In fact, the district was told that no school had ever entered its fourth year of Priority status and actually been able to get out of the status. When the student achievement data arrived, the school showed improvement and growth, but the student achievement itself (as well as other intangible factors) was not enough to get the school out of Priority School status.

In September, VAS entered an unprecedented area: fifth year of Priority School status. The school would continue to receive support from the Cheboygan Otsego Presque Isle Educational Service District (COP), based in Indian River. Furthermore, the school would be responsible to report to the School Reform Office and Michigan Department of Education, both located in Lansing. Much additional data and information has to be submitted to both parties to showcase that VAS is working on a plan to improve student achievement data.

Furthermore, the District has worked with Mi-Excel on the Blueprint for Acceleration/Turnaround for the past two years. The belief of Grant Chanler,PhD, who designed the Blueprint, is that in order to sustain improvements in teacher and student performance, we can no longer help one classroom or building at a time. The support the Blueprint provides is to create and install sustainable systems that will impact both teachers and learners, thus student performance.

Vanderbilt officials found out in the fall that they had improved from the third percentile in state performance to the 19th percentile. Rick Heitmeyer, superintendent, had informed key communicators in November that they would be hearing some great news from Vanderbilt soon. It had been expected that the report cards would be released in November, but they were not released until January 20.

“When I found out that the report cards were going to be released publicly in January, I was glad they were finally coming out,” Heitmeyer said. “I knew we would be rolling out some good news.” Heitmeyer added that he was looking forward to the good news becoming public. The good news Heitmeyer planned to release was that the school had made major gains in student achievement.  However, on Friday, Heitmeyer received a phone call that would make the good news even better — Vanderbilt Area School was being released from Priority Status due to the improved student achievement data.

As of Friday, January 20, 2017, Vanderbilt Area School is no longer a Priority School. The label has been lifted.

“Just because we are no longer a Priority School doesn’t mean we are not going to continue to work on the areas we have been working on within the Blueprint for the past couple of years,“ Heitmeyer said. “We have been working on the belief that we are accelerating student achievement rather than turning student achievement around. That has been our focus for the past several months — acceleration.”

Heitmeyer said the District is hoping to continue its relationship with the ESD as well as with the Michigan Department of Education because the pieces have been put into place, but the puzzle is not yet complete.

“Everyone has worked so hard to improve. The Board of Education, the teachers, the support staff, our custodian and bus driver,” Heitmeyer said. “This has been a true team effort. Without everyone working together and going in the same direction, this wouldn’t be possible. In addition, the support we have received from the COP has been incredible.”

Heitmeyer credited the Board for believing in a new vision that focused on all students, the staff for keeping the faith and continuing forward, and the community for embracing changes that allows the school to succeed.

“I also have to give credit to the kids who believe in what the school is trying to do. Without the students giving their best efforts on the State Testing last spring, we wouldn’t be able to celebrate this success!” Heitmeyer added.

He also said the partnership between the school and the COP  has been incredible. He said that the support of COP ESD Superintendent Mary Vratanina, Director of Learning Services Lori Pearson, and  Coach Cindy Hunt as instrumental in the school’s improvement.

“If all goes well, we will continue to partner with the ESD and finish what we have started. We are out of Priority Status but we want to stay out of Priority Status,” Heitmeyer said. “Getting out is step one. We have more work to do, but now we know what we can do when we work together.”

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