Whitehall City Schools Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy said she always has known she and her staff could do it. The difficulty was in finding the right path.
After more than 10 years at the helm of the school district, Dobbert-Meloy was a little more than pleased to announce to her staff that the district finally has earned an "Effective" rating on the state report card.
Facing copious challenges, including a highly mobile and economically disadvantaged population, a growing number English as a Second Language learners and continual state funding cuts, the district's officials knew the job would not be easy.
The Whitehall City School District's lowest grade came in 2002, when the district fell into "academic emergency," which amounts to an F on the state report card. the district hovered in "academic watch" for several years, followed by a steady rise to "continuous improvement," where it had remained for the past two years.
"I think that everyone in the district was really excited about our progress this year," Dobbert-Meloy said. "We all know that everyone is working hard, and it is nice to know that what we are doing is really making a difference for our kids."
Whitehall Board of Education president Walter Armes agreed.
"That"s a pretty big accomplishment," he said.
According to data released by the Ohio Department of Education, teachers were responsible for helping students gain more than a year's worth of growth last year. The measure is called value-added and scores districts for helping students grow academically, even if they are not yet reaching state benchmarks.
"The programs that we have put into place in the last few years are what have helped us to make this growth," Dobbert-Meloy said. "Each year, students are assessed to determine where they are in their math and reading skills. When we have this data, we can provide instruction that is specifically targeted for their personal learning needs."
Because up to half of Whitehall's student population could leave or enter the district in any one year, addressing those needs on an individual basis was vital.
"We start our intervention based on each student's needs, and they can move academically at a pace that is right for them," Dobbert-Meloy said. "As they grow in their learning, their pace of learning also grows because the gaps in their learning are being closed. Essentially, each student who needs a plan designed for their learning needs has one."
Dobbert-Meloy and Armes praised numerous staffers and parents for all of their efforts in helping to attain the effective grade.
"As a board member, I'm very proud of the accomplishments of our administration, staff and the community," Armes said. "I think the community can be proud of what's happening here."
"Our department of curriculum and instruction has led the way in putting the structures in place to improve student achievement, and they are to be commended for their work," she said..
State data indicated that Whitehall met 13 of the state's 26 academic benchmarks --slightly higher than last year. It also raised its performance-index score by two-tenths of a point.
The big difference this year is that the district earned an "above" designation in the value-added category. Value-added is a calculation of the growth, or progress, that each individual student makes on academic tests from year to year. The progress of each student (as opposed to a one-time snapshot) is what is used to assess the effectiveness of a school or district.
Armes acknowledged that many of the district's challenges remain. Nearly 80 percent of Whitehall's student population is economically disadvantaged. Almost 15 percent are limited English-proficient.
In addition, turnover rates at some Whitehall schools have been known to reach 50 percent in one given year.
As Dobbert-Meloy gets ready to retire from her position as superintended next summer, the news of an effective rating couldn't come at a more perfect moment, she said.
"As for me, I have enjoyed my tenure in Whitehall very much," she said. "It is so exciting to see the foundation for learning that has been put in place here, which will only continue and be improved in the future."