Elementary and middle school principals and administrators in the region are celebrating some of the rankings they received from U.S. News & World Report while others are using the magazine's review as additional incentive for improvement.

The publication, which has offered annual high school and college rankings for years, released its first-ever K-8 rankings assessing student performance in the context of their states and demographics earlier this month.

Select schools in Westerly, the Chariho towns, Stonington and North Stonington earned top-tier status in their states while some showed more modest performance. Schools are ranked according to state-required tests, graduation and how well they prepare their students for high school. Data from the 2018-19 academic year was used to calculate the rankings.

State Street Elementary School in Westerly finished as the 11th-best elementary school in Rhode Island out of 180 public elementary schools. The school's ranking was the second time in recent years that its teachers, administrators and students were recognized for their accomplishments. In 2019, the school jumped from two stars to five, the highest level awarded by the state Department of Education.

"It's exciting to be recognized by a credible national source ... this report validates the leap we made," said Audrey Faubert, State Street Elementary School principal.

Faubert attributed the recognition to the hard work and dedication of the school's staff. Each member employs, Faubert said, "a whatever it takes" approach and every student is considered individually to determine what they need to be successful learners. "To make sure they are growing the way we want them to, and if they are not we will all put our heads together and figure out why," Faubert said.

Westerly Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau said he has long been struck by "a palpable sense of welcoming" at State Street Elementary School. Faubert said she strives to get the best out of and recognize the contributions of each member of her staff whether they are teachers, paraprofessionals or those engaged in other pursuits.

"It's welcoming but we expect rigor — we are focused on our business. ... It's a team effort. We have an amazing staff that always figures out how to problem solve and get the kids what they need to achieve," Faubert said.

Westerly Middle School earned the 13th spot out of 66 middle schools in the state. Paula Fusco, the school's principal, noted that the rankings are based partially on students' results on standardized tests in English and math.

"The teachers and staff put in the hard work and we are seeing the results. This is a whole school initiative — it's not just math and English language arts. We focus on writing across the curriculum and reading across the curriculum, and math and science working together," Fusco said.

To help celebrate the ranking, Fusco delivered a cupcake to each staff member: teachers, paraprofessionals, office staff, custodians and cafeteria workers. "It's all of us working together to make it work for our students," Fusco said.

Garceau and School Committee Chairwoman Dianne Chiaradio Bowdy also reached out to school staff in multiple ways to acknowledge the ranking, Fusco said.

Garceau said the rankings bestowed upon State Street Elementary School and Westerly Middle School are "testaments to the hard work of the principals." He noted that State Street Elementary School received the top rating from the state in 2019.

"Principal Faubert does a terrific job creating a very welcoming and supportive school environment. ... That building has a spark to it that people are noticing and it translates to improved outcomes for kids," Garceau said.

Fusco and her staff at the middle school, Garceau said, have focused in recent years on creating a climate and culture of inclusivity.

"But also the hard work of looking at the data and identifying where kids are potentially struggling in terms of literacy and and mathematics and being really targeted in the supports we provide for those students, and that kind of work pays off," Garceau said.

Dunn's Corners Elementary School was ranked 31 out of 180, and Springbrook Elementary School was ranked 94 out of 180. Garceau said he looked forward to the Dunn's and Springbroook schools moving up in the ratings.

Chariho schools perform well

At No. 14 out of 66 ranked middle schools in Rhode Island, Chariho Middle School ranked in the top 25% in the state. Even with that success, it was the lowest ranked of the pre-secondary schools in the district.

All four of the district’s elementary schools scored incredibly well, with Ashaway leading the way at No. 6 out of 180 Rhode Island elementary schools, placing it in the top 5%. At Nos. 7 and 10, respectively, Charlestown Elementary School also finished in the top 5% and Hope Valley Elementary finished in the top 10%.

Richmond Elementary also did very well, ranking in the top 15% at 27. Principal Sharon Martin said the achievement is one worth being proud of, and said the ranking is the result of targeted efforts to improve instruction by looking at data frequently to adjust personal learning plans for each student. 

"We have been really focused on instruction at the tier 1 level to better recognize the needs of our students," Martin said. 

She said the school will continue to use various models to improve instruction, and hopes to rank at least as high when the ranking are released in 2022.  

“We are extremely proud of the work of our students, teachers, administrators and staff,” Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard said in an email statement last week. “Chariho is a district that remains focused on a high-quality and rigorous education for our students. Our teachers work diligently to ensure our students receive expert instruction.”

Picard said the district has achieved success by maintaining high but realistic expectations for students, including expecting that they are actively engaged both in the community and in their learning.

Climbing higher

North Stonington Elementary School has scored well on state rankings in recent years, often falling within the top 10% and twice recently earning recognition as a school of distinction. That hasn’t stopped students and staff from finding a way to have even more success.

The school finished at No. 31 of 621 elementary schools across the state and finished in the top 5%. Wheeler Elementary School was ranked 82nd out of 212 schools.   

North Stonington Superintendent of Schools Peter Nero attributed the success, particularly at the elementary school, to dedicated staff and families, hard-working students and leadership that has inspired staff to never stop growing and improving.

“We are thrilled to see this success, particularly at the elementary school,” he said. “Considering everything these kids — and our staff for that matter — have been through in the past year and a half, from everything being closed entirely to a complete change of schedules, it’s really a tribute to the effort they’ve put in.”

Stonington stays competitive

In the Stonington school district, Deans Mill School and Stonington Middle School each found itself ranked within the top 15%. 

At No. 42 of 288, Stonington Middle School just cracked the top 15% while Deans Mill School excelled in the rankings at 64 out of 621, placing it at the 10% marker. West Vine Street School was not ranked in the latest evaluation.

Both Tim Smith, principal at Stonington Middle School, and Deans Mill Principal Jennifer McCurdy said they were notified by email last week. Each said in emails that the strong rankings are reflective of a solid work ethic by both staff and students and a commitment by the district to provide a quality education.

“This distinction can be directly attributed to the outstanding staff, students and school community we have at DMS,” MuCurdy said. “Our staff is highly committed to helping all students meet success while making the learning environment fun and enriching. We are always aiming to improve upon our practices and provide the best educational experience possible for all learners.”    

For those at the middle school, Smith said the rankings reflect the efforts by teachers to help students transition smoothly over the past couple years as Pawcatuck and Mystic combined to form Stonington Middle School.    

“When schools merge, you will typically see a dip in the rankings, but that wasn’t the case for us,” Smith explained. “Such strong ratings are a testament to what the students, staff and teachers did during that transition process to still be able to achieve such strong results.”

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