Ogden district making progress

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 2:24 PM

Shane Story, Standard-Examiner Contributor

For many years Ogden city has been saddled with a bad reputation for everything from crime, poverty, and poor education. Many people have worked diligently to change not only the reputation of the city, but that the actual city to be a shining beacon in the state. I applaud everyone’s efforts to make these changes and Ogden is becoming a shining beacon in the state, nation and the world.

As I have chosen to live in Ogden and raise my family here, I became very familiar with the Ogden School District and the challenges it faced and faces. I became so aware that I became involved through PTAs, community councils, committees, and eventually ran and was elected twice to the school board. I am currently serving as president of the Ogden School Board.

As a district, we faced and face major challenges. As recently as three years ago, we made headlines for having six of the 10 lowest-performing elementary schools in the state. Our two traditional high schools ranked at the bottom of all high schools. We were losing almost 30 percent of our high school students before graduation. We were audited by education groups and it was reported that we were educating our students one full year behind the standards of other students. Yes, we were failing our students.

Many excuses were made. It is difficult to educate when the poverty level is so high. Some kids just can’t learn. There is no parental involvement.

We don’t have enough money. Morale is too low. All of these excuses had merit in that it makes the job more challenging and they do throw up obstacles; but in studying other areas where success abounded they were simply that, excuses that we could not use to let the children of this city down.

Something needed to be done and it needed to be done quickly as the laws of No Child Left Behind were going to allow the federal government to come in and shut down our schools, fire teachers, and take over what should be done on the local level. These changes, we knew would be difficult. It would require a fundamental shift in thinking and in action. People needed to start believing in our students instead of making excuses for them.

Expectations needed to be raised for everyone. We could not allow poverty to be an excuse for not learning. We could not allow room for “it can’t change” attitudes to take over. We could not have lower expectations. In fact, we needed to raise expectations, not only to the state average, but if we wanted to be the best, we needed to raise expectations because we wanted to be better than average. We wanted to be the best.

The fundamental change needed to take place. We contracted with the University of Virginia that had shown success in turning around schools, first placing three schools in this program. The results were astounding. Dee Elementary School, the lowest-performing school in the state, jumped up considerably and this year scores higher than 144 of the other schools in the state. It is not at the top, but it is moving up the ranks considerably.

We were able to add multiple schools to this program, each of the last three years and we are seeing the success in all schools. Administrators and teachers who have put forth the effort that this program requires have reaped the success and are embracing this turn around with excitement.

We needed to offer an expanded honors program for our junior high and high schools. We have introduced the IB diploma offering at Ogden High School.

This is the only school in Weber County that offers this and it is providing extra rigor to our high school students along with our effort to expand AP and concurrent enrollment classes.

The increased rigor at the high school put focus on our lack of rigor offered at the junior high level. We worked with Dr. Greg Lewis, and a group of our junior high teachers to find the best teaching practices in education to support the increased rigor at the junior high. They asked that we adopt “Springboard” as a program proven successful to introduce a standard honors program at all our junior highs. This program was so successful that the junior high schools on their own accord adopted the methods for their core classes. The increased proficiency is impressive.

This year when the state released the UCAS scores we have no schools in the bottom 10. In fact, our lowest performing school ranks 54th from the bottom. It still isn’t good enough, but it is improving. Wasatch Elementary has grown in the ranks and now ranks in the top 10 percent, ranking 60th in the state. It is the top-performing elementary school in all of Weber County.

Our high schools have gone from the bottom of the pack, surpassing 30 other high schools. The graduation rates have increased to 90 percent.

It is not good enough. We have a goal of having all of our schools in the top 10 percent. We will achieve it. We have a dedicated force of educators in all aspects of the schools that are relentless in their efforts to help our students succeed. I commend the administrators, teachers, aids, staff, and many volunteers for the tireless efforts to help the students of Ogden get the education they deserve.

Shane Story is the Ogden School Board president.

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