South Dorchester School earns five stars

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan Students at South Dorchester K-8 held up five fingers to celebrate their school’s recent five-star rating. The grade is the highest possible in the state’s grading system.

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan
Students at South Dorchester K-8 held up five fingers to celebrate their school’s recent five-star rating. The grade is the highest possible in the state’s grading system.

GOLDEN HILL – It’s a small school, tucked away in South Dorchester, but you can’t say it’s out of sight – in fact, South Dorchester K-8 (SDS) is shining more brightly than ever, after earning five stars in a state survey.

The Maryland Department of Education’s School Report Cards were compiled in the early fall of 2018, and published recently. SDS received the highest rating, with its middle school being one of only five in the state to do so.

“I attribute that to the fact that the students have the same teachers for three years,” Principal Jennifer Ruark said on Friday. With a small student population – just 200 in all grades – it makes sense for the teacher of a certain subject to have sixth, seventh and eighth graders as they move through middle school. The familiarity and consistency that result bore fruit in the state survey.

The Report Card was released on Dec. 4, the first time information has been compiled this way. It contains performance data for every school in the state.

The new system gives each school a score based on a combination of academic and school quality indicators. For elementary and middle schools, the system includes academic achievement, academic progress, progress in achieving English language proficiency, and measures of school quality and student success.

“While we’re excited that 91 percent of our schools received a three-, four- or five-star rating, it is evident there is work to do to realize all the potential of all children in Dorchester County Public Schools,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Diana Mitchell said in a statement on the county schools’ website. “We will continue to push to meet the new state standards with a particular focus on reading and math.”

SDS was not graded on progress in achieving English proficiency, because it does not have enough students in that category to qualify.
It takes a village

As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In South Dorchester’s case, that sounds about right, except that more than one village is involved.

“We have several things that I think make a significant difference,” Ms. Ruark said, with parent involvement at the top of the list. “They make sure the children do their homework.”

SDS’ small size might be to its advantage, as the facility attracts solid support from its part of the county. “All of our teachers, parents and community have high expectations for the students and the school,” Ms. Ruark said.

Attendance also received high marks in the survey. This is another area in which long-term relationships pay off.

Ms. Ruark first taught at the school 20 years ago, and now educates children of her former students That means a call to parents or grandparents of an absent child is usually enough to correct a situation. She noted that parents also support any disciplinary measures the school imposes.

Consistency and familiarity aren’t confined to the principal’s office. “We have a low teacher turnover rate,” Ms. Ruark said.

It’s a situation a little reminiscent of the stereotypical little red schoolhouse – at SDS’ elementary level, there is just one teacher per grade. So they realy get to know the children, developing a personal and educational bond that might be hard to find in a larger facility.

“We have exceptional teachers who go above and beyond,” Ms. Ruark said.
Time to look ahead

So while the state has recognized South Dorchester’s achievements, the work there continues, maybe with even more focus. “We’re a five-star school, now we need to stay there,” Ms. Ruark said.

But first, a sweet reward for the kids who have done so well. Newly elected County Council member Jay Newcomb, who represents the area and drives one of the school’s buses, promised to buy the children ice cream this week to celebrate their success.

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