MARQUETTE - Amid an onslaught of state and federal budget cuts, one local school is forging ahead despite the adversity it faces, its students surpassing state academic expectations.
One could even say they were "beating the odds."
K.I. Sawyer Elementary School was given just that designation by Michigan's Department of Education, which released a list of 123 schools in the state earlier this month.
From left, K.I. Sawyer Elementary School fourth-graders Karlee Walker, Raina Bowling, Raina Humphrey and Lejah Carello listen as their teacher, Marci Paulsen, helps them work on an assignment. (Photo by Dsean McCoy)
"I was very pleased, because I know our staff collectively worked very hard at ensuring each student is successful at school, regardless of their background or what their needs might be," said Principal Sandra Petrovich. "I was really proud that somewhere out there, ... the state realizes that we're doing our job here."
MDE conducted two separate studies to determine which schools were "Beating the Odds." The first study identified 60 schools that performed above predicted academic levels, based on risk factors including the percentages of economically disadvantaged students, of students with disabilities, of English language learners and of minority students. Those projected academic levels were based on data collected during the 2010-2011 school year.
The second study identified 83 schools that performed better than other schools with similar demographics.
K.I. Sawyer was part of the first study, making it one of only 60 schools in the state to receive that designation.
"In our school, we have high expectations for students," Petrovich said. "We have high academic expectations, we have high behavioral expectations, and students are rewarded for meeting those expectations. The staff collectively does work hard at ensuring students are supported both academically and behaviorally."
Upon hearing the news that her school was on MDE's "Beating the Odds" list, fifth-grade teacher Connie Usher said she felt a sense of acknowledgement.
"I was really excited. It reaffirmed all the hard work we do with our kids," she said. "I always knew we were beating the odds."
For Usher, providing students with help in areas other than academics is what makes her school special.
"It's not just academics. We meet their needs emotionally. We make sure they feel safe. We make sure they have a positive environment to learn in. That's a big part of it," she said.
The school practices response to intervention tactics, which means identifying struggling students and working creatively with those students to help them learn as best they can, Petrovich said.
"If door 'A' doesn't work, you try door 'B.' If door 'B' doesn't work, you try door 'C,' and you see what clicks for the student," she said.
Usher said it's ideas like this and the school's high expectations of its students that spell out the recipe for success.
"If (students) struggle, we don't let them fail. We try to help them to have that confidence," she said. "I'm very proud of all the students and the staff and I always knew this was what they could do. I'm very proud of them."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.