It Really Does Take a Village
During the first few weeks of school, many faculty and staff members shared the following most welcome news: “This has been the best start to a school year ever!” Indeed, the return of our students for another school year has been filled with excitement, learning, joy and optimism. It is much changed from the last two incredibly challenging school years marked by illness, uncertainty, masks and social distancing.
The effects of the pandemic on the social-emotional well-being and academic progress of our students are still unfolding, but there are reasons to be optimistic about student learning at SPS during the pandemic.
Across the state, the overall percentage of students in grades 3-8 scoring “proficient” or “advanced” on the MSTEP test in mathematics slipped 5.4% between 2018-19 and 2021-22 from 38.7% to 33.3%. Yet, the percentage of students at Douglas Elementary School and Saugatuck Middle School scoring “proficient” or “advanced” on the MSTEP mathematics assessment dipped only slightly from 61.2% to 59.7%. Moreover, the results in English Language Arts reveal even more promise: The state average of students in grades 3-8 scoring “proficient” or above on the ELA MSTEP fell from 44.3% in 2018-19 to 40.6% in 2021-22 while SPS proficiency in English Language Arts rose from 66.8% to 68.3% during the pandemic!
One especially encouraging indicator that the impact of lost instructional time has been substantially mitigated at SPS are the results of the 3rd grade English Language Arts test where 78% of Douglas Elementary Students scored “proficient” or “advanced”—the 5th best scores in the state.
Saugatuck Public Schools strives to provide equitable outcomes for all students. Each student brings unique learning needs and life experiences to school each day. Across the world, socioeconomic status is a strong indicator of academic performance in school. At Saugatuck Public Schools, approximately 35% of our students qualify for free or reduced priced lunch and breakfast.
Overall, SPS students in grades 3-8 pass the MSTEP English Language Arts assessment at a rate 50% higher than the state average and pass the mathematics assessment at a rate 60% higher than the state average. While achievement gaps still exist, another encouraging finding from the most recent state testing is the fact that SPS students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch passed the English Language Arts test at a 60% higher rate than their peers across the state and a whopping 80% higher in mathematics.
One might ask how these impressive learning gains were accomplished in the face of such a challenging pandemic. The answer is a community that rallied around its children.
First and foremost, let’s give credit where credit is due. The kids put in the time and did the work. Students across our district value learning, enjoy a challenge, and take educational risks to learn new information and develop new skills. Parents set aside their own challenges to support their children’s learning which makes a tremendous difference in academic achievement.
Our teachers pivoted on a dime to provide remote instruction when first necessary and showed up in-person for the majority of the pandemic. Having students in the classroom as much as possible had a significant impact on student learning.
Of my 38 years in public education, the last two have been the toughest. I admire the strength, courage, passion and persistence of our teachers who found a way to keep learning alive when they were physically and emotionally exhausted. The same can be said of our wonderful support staff who delivered meals, cleaned and sanitized classrooms and buses, safely transported students to school, contact-traced hundreds of Covid cases, and took on other roles when needed.
In addition to great teachers and support staff, great schools have great leaders. Our building principals stepped up to the challenge to navigate constantly changing conditions and CDC guidance, designed creative solutions to vexing logistical problems, and provided unrelenting support to students, faculty and staff.
Perhaps the X-factor to our student success is the overwhelming support of our community partners, businesses and residents. Experiential and project-based learning is a key ingredient to student success at SPS. We are fortunate to have community partners that provide learning experiences outside the traditional school day or year.
Two programs tightly linked to DES that provide excellent value-added experiences for our students are the community recreation program funded by our community recreation millage, and the Boys & Girls Club currently funded by the Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary Club. Over 87% of students attending Douglas Elementary School participate in community recreation programming such as swim lessons, sports leagues, summer sports camps, and ski club. The Saugatuck-Douglas Boys & Girls Club provides activities in the arts, sports, health, character and leadership to approximately 60 students after school each day. Programming continues over the summer months too. Total membership in the club stood at 189 members last year.
Support organizations run by our parents and fueled by our community such as PTO, Athletic Boosters, Band Boosters, Drama Boosters and Friends of SMS provide additional experiences and equipment for our students. Uniforms, musical instruments, after school clubs, theater productions, trips abroad and field trips all add great value to our students’ education.
Other partners such as the Saugatuck-Douglas District Library, the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, the Saugatuck Douglas History Center, the Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary Club, and Children First Lakeshore continue to provide food, resources and programming that also enrich our students’ lives.
On behalf of the students, faculty and staff of Saugatuck Public Schools, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to our special community for always being there for our schools.
Timothy J. Travis, Ph.D.