Good marks: Silver Falls, Mt. Angel rank high in Best School District results

January 2019 Posted in Community

Kindergartner Silas Kuenzi, left, and first grader Kyler Nuttman of Evergreen School dissect a squid in their science studies last fall.
Courtesy Silver Falls School District

By Brenna Wiegand

Neighboring Silver Falls and Mt. Angel school districts received exceptional rankings in Niche.com’s 2019 Best School Districts in Oregon.

Out of 198 school districts in Oregon, Silver Falls ranked 7th and Mt. Angel 19th by the Pittsburgh-based data, ranking and review site for K-12 schools, colleges and neighborhoods around the country.

“You look at what goes into their rankings and it’s a very holistic view,” Silver Falls School District Communications Coordinator Derek McElfresh said. “It really means a lot to know that across a very wide set of criteria that’s the kind of district we have.”

He attributes the stellar ranking to the district’s consistency and persistence in school improvement in general and a penchant to serve each and every student in every one of its 13 schools spread over 250 square miles. In total the district has 3,838 students with a student-teacher ratio of 20:1.

“The neat thing is that the district as a whole received this high rating and that just reflects on the quality of the staff and the amount of work and time and effort they put in,” McElfresh said. “We’re happy when we see these kinds of results but we’re more focused on ‘What’s the next thing?’ Every meeting I’ve been to it’s about how we can be better; we are seeing the result of a lot of very passionate people who really want to do what is best for our students.”

He said all district decisions and responses to problems are weighed against whether it will move the district closer to its vision of a 100 percent graduation rate.

“We are hovering so close to that 90 percent graduation rate and when you look at the past five years it’s even higher,” McElfresh said. “Our minority students; our economically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities; our migrant families; all of our subgroups perform above the state average every year,” he said, adding that much of the groundwork in this regard is owed to the excellent programs at the elementary
school level.

This year, in response to a known need, Silver Falls significantly extended its counseling program; now each school has an assigned counselor.

“Mental health is very important to everybody,” McElfresh said.

Mt. Angel School District is composed of 708 students with a student-teacher ratio of 16:1. It is nestled in a small, tight-knit community that puts a lot of emphasis on involvement and volunteerism.

“We have a really strong community base of supporters for just about anything and we try to help; for instance, releasing kids to help set up for Oktoberfest,” Stoops said.

“We’re not a union district which has given us some flexibility. Our staff is really happy at where they’re at and we like to think that we have a relationship with every kid; that we know every kid individually; that’s our goal anyway.

“One of the indicators in our strategic plan is that all students participate in at least one school or community activity per year,” Stoops said. “Our goal is that by 2022, 100 percent of our kids in all three buildings are participating, and we’re definitely on track.”

The district implements the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, a nonprofit organization that provides professional learning for educators to improve college readiness for all students.

“It’s proven to be real effective at helping kids find their way through high school and beyond,” Stoops said. “We focus on that throughout the district.”

Mt. Angel also puts a lot of emphasis on Career & Technical Education programs and getting kids involved in workplace experiences.

“…and then of course our sports programs have been really strong the last few years and seem to have a good strong future which is always a great culture builder,” Stoops said. “For the last three years our athletic programs have earned the OSAA Cup that takes into account sportsmanship, athletics and academic performance; that’s a pretty big accomplishment.”

Like Silver Falls, the Mt. Angel district is making a concerted effort to address the social-emotional side of learning and in the past year the entire staff attended QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer) suicide prevention training.

“We need to develop good, positive relationships with all our kids and to be able to recognize when they are in distress or in need and have the tools needed to intervene or refer them to the appropriate services,” Stoops said. “Public schools have become some of our largest social services.”

Stoops says a school district is not measured by test scores alone and appreciates that this survey takes into consideration the many other areas that make up its effectiveness.

Using algorithms and statistical techniques, Niche analyzes an array of factors that includes test scores, graduation rates, college readiness, student life data from the US Department of Education, and online feedback from Niche users; primarily students, alumni and staff.

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