Study: Sister Lakes Elementary one of top schools in state

The roll that Sister Lakes Elementary School district has been on over the last several years shows no sign of slowing, as a new study released by the Mackinac Center ranked the school district as the top rural elementary school in the state of Michigan.

In the think tank’s 2015 “Context and Performance” report card, released to the public Tuesday, Sister Lakes topped the list of elementary and middle schools classified under the “rural school” designation. The elementary school also scored the 29th highest score out of the more than 2,200 schools ranked in the report.

Sister Lakes scored a 116.89 in the Mackinac Center’s evaluation, well above the 100 score average established by testers. These scores were determined through several years worth of MEAP testing numbers, weighing actual scores against expected scores, with the latter determined by the socioeconomic status of the student population.

“I was very excited to hear the news,” said Sister Lakes Principal Mike Campbell. “It shows that our staff and students continue to work together to contribute to our success.”

The accolades are the latest that have been bestowed upon Sister Lakes for its student achievements, receiving “Reward School” status from the Michigan Department of Education in 2014 and 2015.

Campbell credits the strong academic performance of his students to his staff, saying it wouldn’t be possible without their dedication to their wards.

“I’d say it is their strong work ethic to make sure each student is successful,” Campbell said. “They go above and beyond to do what is required of them.”

Teamwork amongst teachers has been another key in improving student success, the principal said. Every few weeks, the staff gets together to identify students that are struggling or falling behind on coursework, brainstorming ways to help those students get back on track for success.

The staff and administration also work together to help motivate and encourage the students to care more about their education, be it through giving away prizes to classes that do well on tests to holding special assemblies to celebrate the monthly students of the month, Campbell said.

“We’re certainly not going to stop here,” Campbell said. “We’re going to keep working and monitoring data, so that as our students’ needs change, we change with them.”

The district’s other three elementary schools, as well Dowagiac Middle School, all also scored strongly in the rankings, each scoring in the top 25 percent, said Deputy Superintendent Dawn Connor. Justus Gage placed in the top 5 percent of its category, “town schools,” with the 12th highest score in the section.

“We believe in our staff and principals, and we know they’re doing well, but it’s always great when someone outside the district recognizes the work they do for our students,” Connor said.

A focus on fundamental skills, such as problem solving and arithmetic, has helped bolster the district’s student success over the last several years, particularly at the elementary level, Connor said. Building student reading skills, in particular, have been a priority for district educators, with programs such as Reading Recovery in place to make sure every student can read by the third grade, Connor said.

At higher levels of education, district administration has turned their attention to expanding opportunities for students, through programs such as the soon-to-be introduced early college program, Connor said.

While the school district has often performed well in statewide studies, the marks achieved by students in recent years, supported by the success of last year’s bond campaign, has helped the district build an incredible amount of recent momentum, Connor said.

“It’s never been better,” she said. “I’ve been here 30 years and I’m more excited than ever about the opportunities we’re giving to our students.”

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