Despite funding constraints and increased expenses, the Mon Valley’s various school districts continued to push forward in 2017 with innovative academic programs and a wide range of extracurricular activities for their students.

Each of the area’s school districts also put increased emphasis on measures to improve safety and security for their students, teachers and staff.

As a measure of academic progress, the Herald-Standard compiled a list of the districts’ School Performance Profiles (SPP) scores for the 2016-2017 school year.

SPP scores assess the performance of public schools based on numerous criteria, including standardized testing. Scores are on a 0-100 scale. In past years, the state considered a score of 70 or above to be a passing rate, but no benchmark was announced with the most recent batch of scores.

The following is a glimpse of the achievements made by the Mon Valley’s school districts in 2017.

Belle Vernon Area School District

During the past year, BVA was chosen as one of 447 school districts in the U.S. and Canada to be honored by the College Board with placement on the 8th Annual AP District Honor Roll. This recognizes districts for increasing access to Advanced Placement coursework while maintaining or increasing the percentage of students earning scores of three or higher on AP exams.

Last year, the district also provided parents with online report cards in lieu of paper report cards and it provided students with a new challenge to meet the Honor Roll: Honors, 3.5 to 3.74; High Honors, 3.75 to 3.95 (any final grade in any class below 80 percent will disqualify students); and Highest Honors, 3.95 and above (any final grade in any class below 80 percent will disqualify students).

The BVA Media Team also continued to live stream various sporting events, plays and other activities on the school’s YouTube channel while Angela Musto, a physics teacher, and three of her students, Ben Filak, Gabe Reed and Jayden Serenari submitted a video for a competition hosted by the Lanxessfactor Supply Company. The team was awarded a $3,000 grant to purchase physics equipment for the school.

Various facilities improvements were made during 2017, including complete replacement of the fire alarm system, installation of steps and handrails to the high school bleachers, installation of lockers in all four high school locker rooms, demolition of the old athletic building and long hallway of Rostraver Middle School, and roof replacement for Building E at the high school. In addition various improvements were made at the middle and elementary schools. The district also joined the Westmoreland County Land Bank, an initiative that will make properties useful again and return them to viable tax entities.

School safety was also a concern for all of BVA’s schools during 2017. BVA launched a Tip Line for anyone to report a safety concern. The district is in the process of reviewing further options for improving security at each of its schools.

2016-2017 Pennsylvania School Performance Profile (SPP)

Belle Vernon Area High School: 88.1

Belle Vernon Area Middle School: 57.5

“We keep aware of our students’ achievements and benchmarks,” said Superintendent Dr. John D. Wilkinson. “And we use the scores as a means to improve our curriculum, instruction and assessment.”

California Area School District

At California Area High School, students were able to choose from increased elective course offerings, including Robotics II, Physics II, Street Law and Economics in Sports and Entertainment. In addition, the high school rolled out implementation of the Keystone/PSSA preparation along with a prescriptive learning curriculum. Dual enrollment articulation was also arranged with St. Francis University to increase college credit courses in Spanish IV, Art IV and Sociology. SAT testing was offered to juniors and seniors, who could complete the exams at the school on a school day.

The California Area Intermediate/Middle School utilized the web-based product, Edmentum, for ongoing assessment that provides data for prescriptive individualized student learning. The school also incorporated a school theme, “Working Well with Others,” to focus on team building and the development of soft skills that will help students to better interact with each other. During 2017, the school also implemented remedial/enrichment classes to support math, English language arts and science achievement and it held a “Career Day” for eighth grade students, who heard presentations form speakers representing various professions.

Some key highlights for the California Area Elementary School included the adoption of a new reading series; a K-4 Fall Literacy Fair, which was designed to enhance peer-assisted learning opportunities and build literacy skills; and implementation of a “WIN” (What I Need) intervention/acceleration time for second grade students. The elementary school also partnered with California University of Pennsylvania for March Arts, an event designed to expose students to various career paths in the area of the arts. The college offered 12 sessions to students. In addition, California Area Elementary School is under consideration for “Rookie of the “year for “Pennies for Patients,” after collecting $3,800—almost triple its goal of $1,400.

2016-2017 Pennsylvania School Performance Profile (SPP)

California Area High School: 78.7

California Area Middle School: 52.2

“Our low SPP score of 52.2 for the middle school was not good,” said Superintendent Michael Sears. “That was an attention getter. Therefore, throughout the district, the focus for 2017-2018 has been on academic improvement and enrichment in mathematics and STEM-related courses.”

Added Sears, “Beyond standardized testing results, teachers have increasingly utilized both summative and formative assessment as well as diagnostic assessments. These multiple forms of assessment enable staff to measure students more individualized and identify strengths and needs. Students are also increasingly participating in activities in the school and community alike. And we are closely monitoring students’ attendance, which is linked to positive student performance outcomes.”

Charleroi Area School District

The district introduced a new STEM initiative that gives middle school students the opportunity to cultivate plants in the classroom, using an aquaponics system. Teachers were also required to make at least three positive calls to parents to inform them about progress being made by their children. This initiative empowers families by focusing on the positives.

Capital improvements were also a priority for the district last year. Among its ongoing and upcoming projects, the district will repave the road entering the campus and it will soon upgrade security and exterior lighting. To make its schools safer, the district replaced exterior doors for several buildings and it conducted an assessment of its security system. One of the district’s goals is to bring another full-time security office aboard.

2016-2017 Pennsylvania School Performance Profile (SPP)

Charleroi Area High School: 60.9

Charleroi Area Middle School: 77.2

“For two consecutive years, we’ve ranked second out of 26 school districts and intermediate units,” said Superintendent Dr. Ed Zelich. “Last year, our high school SPP scores dropped a little bit while our middle school SPP scores improved somewhat. But we have learned that there is much more involved with gauging a students’ progress than just test scores. We are also looking at attendance rates, graduation rates and student performance in subgroups, as well as things that can’t be measured in test scores, such as personal accountability and relationships. We want to develop a well-rounded student who can go out into the world and make a meaningful contribution to society.”

Monessen School District

The Monessen Elementary Center school-wide Positive Behavior System (PBIS) was rolled out at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year. This program outlines appropriate behaviors expected in the school environment throughout the school. PBIS is based on developing a continuous process of positive behavior support. During the first week of school, teachers used lesson plans that were established by the Core Team to teach expectations at Monessen Elementary Center for the Bus, Cafeteria, Hallway, Restroom and Classroom. They use the abbreviation PUPS, which stands for Polite, United, Proud and Safe. Each month, teachers and staff are given 16 tickets, four in each category, to pass out to students who are “caught” being Polite, United, Proud or Safe. When a student receives a ticket, they bring it down to the office, where they become eligible to win different prizes. This is the first year the school is using this program and administration and teachers meet to discuss ways to improve our program. Staff and students enjoy using the positive behavior system and the school plans on making it even better next year.

In addition, Monessen School District had a successful “Raise the Curtain” campaign that started with Oscar winner Frances McDormand donating $6,000 toward a new stage curtain. The curtain is ordered and should be installed by the beginning of the next school year. More than $15,000 was collected to pay for the curtain.

2016-2017 Pennsylvania School Performance Profile (SPP)

Monessen High School: 56.7

Monessen Middle School: 52.7

“The SPP score does not provide an accurate picture of any district,” said Superintendent Dr. Leanne Spazak. “We focus on our Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAA) scores, which indicate the growth of our students. We are pleased with the high growth levels we have seen throughout the district in reading and math. As we analyze our PVAA results from last year, we will evaluate what we do well, what we need to improve and how we are going to achieve improvement. Also, I look forward to the Future Ready Index that will not rate districts as a number, but rather make an attempt to look at the district as a whole and not predominantly on percentage of students who have achieved proficient on standardized tests. A district has to look at growth for all students. In addition, our students have average SAT scores that rank higher than any other school district in the Mon Valley. We were very proud of that, for it shows we are working hard to make sure we keep challenging our high achievers while working to grow our underachievers.”

Ringgold School District

During 2017, Ringgold School District added the final piece to its educational program and vision when it finished construction of a new $40.4 million middle school. The 141,962 square-foot school features a 288-seat cafeteria with a full-service kitchen, high school regulation-sized gymnasium with 868 seats, 646-seat auditorium, 36 state-of-the-art classrooms, STEM instruction spaces, fully equipped science labs and many other features.

The new school building will fulfill the district’s mission of a fifth through eighth grade structure. The district’s two elementary schools will accommodate grades K through 4 while the high school will handle grades 9 through 12. All three of these schools have recently undergone renovations. In addition, each of Ringgold’s schools now has an air conditioning system that will provide students with a comfortable environment that is conducive to positive learning.

Ringgold also devoted considerable attention to making each of its schools secure for students, teachers and staff. Each building has metal detectors along with a security vestibule that visitors have to enter before proceeding into the building. Visitors are also screened through the Raptor System. Ringgold’s Police Department is considered one of the best in the state and is committed to keeping it students and staff safe.

Also during 2017, Ringgold School District signed a new five-year contract with the Ringgold Education Association and Ringgold Middle School inducted 78 students into the school’s first National Junior Honor Society class.

2016-2017 Pennsylvania School Performance Profile (SPP)

Ringgold High School: 69.1

Ringgold Middle School: 61.9

“We understand that there is more to a school than just its SPP numbers,” said Acting Superintendent Randy Skrinjorich. “In the future, our students will also be assessed through the Future Ready PA Index. This will look at a wider range of criteria to measure school performance, such as career awareness, activities, advanced placement, course offerings and dual enrollment opportunities with higher education institutions. We were also proud that students at Ringgold High School scored high with their SAT exams.

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