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State gives mixed reviews to St. Helens schools

Yankton Academy top-rated, while St. Helens High lags behind; Scappoose schools about average


School report cards released by the Oregon Department of Education Thursday, Oct. 10, give public high school education in St. Helens a subpar grade.

St. Helens High School ranks between the fifth and 15th percentiles among Oregon schools, placing it in Level 2 — the second tier from the bottom in the five-tier system. The new report card level system is structured similarly to the DEFCON national defense readiness condition, with Level 5 being the most positive and Level 1 being the most dire.

The school is rated “below average” compared to demographically similar institutions on the report card.

A detailed breakdown of the report card shows St. Helens High received poor marks in several education categories for students of color and students with disabilities. In her “from the principal” message attached to the report card, BG Aguirre also noted that her school has underperformed on writing achievement.

“We have chosen to address this issue by focusing our resources on implementing the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which reinforce literacy across all content areas,” wrote Aguirre, who was promoted from assistant principal to the school’s top job over the summer. “We promise to continue to deliver the same excellence that you have come to expect at SHHS.”

Aguirre’s secretary Brie Allen told the Spotlight that Aguirre was unavailable for comment this week.

Meanwhile, Yankton Arthur Academy — a public charter school within the district that is one of six Arthur Academies dispersed throughout northwestern Oregon — received top marks from the state, with a Level 5 rating. That rating means the school fell within the top 10 percent of Oregon schools during the 2012-13 school year. It was also graded as “above average” among demographically similar schools across the state.

Speaking about the report card Wednesday, Oct. 16, Michael Arthur, the Yankton Arthur Academy principal, said it continues a pattern of high achievement for his school, which serves 225 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

“It’s consistent from what we’ve always gotten, so it’s not really too much of a surprise,” Arthur said.

With regard to the report cards for other St. Helens schools, Arthur said, “I don’t like to compare ourselves to the [St. Helens School] District too much. We like to have our own set of expectations. And we actually think we can do better next year.”

Arthur attributed Yankton Academy’s performance to the “direct instruction” model that is standard practice at all Arthur Academies; the schools are named for Arthur’s father, who founded the network with the teaching model in mind. The Arthur Academy website says the model centers on the organization of lessons into “precise, small and sequential steps with specific examples and wording” to help students learn concepts they might otherwise struggle to grasp.

Meanwhile, all Scappoose School District schools are rated Level 3 or Level 4 on the new report cards, putting them collectively between the 15th and 90th percentiles.

St. Helens Middle School also earned a Level 4 rating, placing it between the 44th and 90th percentiles among Oregon schools, and an “about average” rating among schools with similar student demographics.

St. Helens’ elementary schools were not rated for the 2012-13 school year, as it was the first since their reconfiguration to serve kindergarten through sixth grade classes.

Like St. Helens High, the alternative Columbia County Education Campus received a Level 2 rating.

CCEC primarily serves high school students who are at risk of dropping out or have fallen behind on their academic credits.

St. Helens School District Superintendent Mark Davalos did not respond to requests for comment before press time.

The state redesigned its school and district report cards for this year, adopting the five-tier system and taking what an ODE factsheet described as “a much greater focus on student learning and growth.”

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