“We’re Doing Well, But We Want to Do Better”, Principal Says

photo by David Croyle

West Shamokin Principal Dr. Stephen Shutters addresses the school board of the Armstrong School District to discuss the state assessment scores of his students.

West Shamokin Junior-Senior High School Principal Dr. Stephen Shutters told school directors at the December meeting of the Armstrong School District board that his students are doing well, but he wants to see more improvement.

Principals from each of the schools explained to the school board their assessment scores from state tests.

“In mathematics, while we’re above the state average, our kids aren’t growing where we want them to be, so a lot more attention is being put on that this year,” Shutters said. “We’re very happy with our graduation rates this year. They’re substantially higher than the state average.  Sometimes our kids start out a little sluggish, but we work with them. Our kids work hard, teachers work hard, and we get them to be proficient in the state testing area.”

Eighth grade math seemed to be the main focus. Students only scored 28%. However, overall across the state, students are only scoring 32% in math. It seems to be a problem area when students have issues grasping concepts.

“We’ve gone through a process where two years ago, we re-did 7th and 8th grade curriculum maps. We looked at them one more time last year. We made a lot of changes,” he said. “Sometimes something we find was kind of neglected. Our teachers hit it very hard and that’s why you’re seeing some of the growth in English/Language Arts (ELA) areas in 7th and 8th grade is because we re-did those curriculum maps.”

Another discipline being taught is Text Dependent Analysis (TDA). It is a type of instruction where students are forced to read, write, and perform tasks based on written material.

“TDAs are hitting the kids very hard. Like most things in that area, kids don’t like doing them. I think for years, schools kind of avoided them, but now it’s being tested. It’s like anything else: if you do it enough, kids just come to expect it. Our kids now expect to write. They don’t necessarily like it, but it’s not something that they fear as much as they used to and they’re getting a lot better at it.”

Shutters said it is important to engage the teacher as well as the student. Matching the right teacher with the right student is a top priority at West Shamokin.

“We’ve also started a mentoring program with all incoming seventh-graders,” he explained. “Research is very clear that your first year in the building you graduate from (usually it’s 9th, but in our case it’s 7th), it’s the most important year you’ll have in high school. If we don’t get the student off and running smooth then, the chance of a student graduating is greatly limited. So we’re putting a lot of energy this year into keeping an eye on our seventh graders. They are meeting weekly with staff members to check on grades, if they’re being bullied, or discuss how things are going at home. We’re just trying to get that student off to a better start than we have in the past.”

One school board member made the observation that the two high schools seemed to have consistent performance, but there were wider gaps between elementary schools.  Dr. Cheryl Soloski explained that is because of the number of students at a grade level.

“The smaller schools one or two or three or four children can sway the percentages pretty quickly. The curriculum is consistent. Every teacher and every school gets the same training, the same material, the same opportunities for professional development, so the curriculum is consistent. Since the professional development is consistent, I think it just comes down to in some cases the number of students.”

The next Regular Monthly Meeting of the Board of School Directors of Armstrong School District will be held on Monday, January 13, at 7:30 PM in Room 2050 (Large Group Instruction Room) at West Hills Intermediate School, 175 Heritage Park Drive, Kittanning.