Board listens to principals speak on goals and low test scores

LEWISTOWN – Mifflin County School District Board of Directors held a special Tuesday meeting to listen to principals from several schools in the district about various goals they were focusing on after the disappointing scores from area students in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests.

Mifflin County School District Superintendent James Estep said last spring kids took the PSSAs and results arrived in the summer of 2012.

Estep said the results were mixed, some schools did well and others did not.

The school board wanted to address the problem and asked principals from schools in the districts to present building goals in which schools can improve.

That was in August, and the board recently asked for a progress report by the principals.

Lewistown Elementary School scored in the bottom 15 percent of Pennsylvania in recent PSSA tests, Estep said.

LES principal Mark Hidlay said he is focusing on three things: academic growth and achievement, improving teaching and learning and child development.

Hidlay spoke to the board about the ways he plans for LES to improve in test results and child development.

He said the staff at the school is very involved with the kids and has various progress monitoring systems that can only improve in the future.

“When I look at my building … I see us steadily progressing,” Hidlay said. “Getting better at implementing the core language arts programs.”

The secondary schools weren’t immune to testing problems, either.

Mifflin County Middle, Junior High and High schools all placed average or slightly below average compared to other schools in the state, according to documents provided by each principal.

“We want to build a culture for kids to do well,” Mifflin County Middle School Principal Robert Reeder said.

In the middle school, scores were slightly above the national mean in reading and math. Reeder said a motivational assembly was hosted for the entire student body a week prior to the testing window to try to help the students, along with a spirit week before the PSSA.

Reeder said he is optimistic that the school’s scores will improve.

According to documents, scores for students in the junior high school placed right around the national mean for grades eight and nine.

One of the goals for the junior high school listed in the academic plan outlined by principal Mike Zinobile is to establish an educational environment which is safe, challenging and conducive to student learning

Zinobile said the collaboration between schools is better than ever and it is helping with the transitions and curriculum.

One bright spot in the district is the high school.

Principal Mark Crosson said the large portion of improvement is curricular, especially math growth.

According to documents, scores for the students at the high school have improved since last year and are close to the national average.

“I’m pleased the scores went up,” Crosson said.

Crosson said everything will run more effectively next year.

“I was very pleased with the discussion itself.” Estep said. “I thought there were good questions and good response from principals.”

He said the principals were very well prepared and tried to keep presentations very simple and cohesive. Estep said they tried to link where they feel they are now in relation to where they were when they first set their goals in the fall.

If a building is struggling, it takes more than a year to turn it around, Estep said. It takes time, he added, it takes a strategic effort by everyone involved.