Knox achievement levels have improved across the board

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2016

By Mike Waiksnis and Christopher McNeil

Special to the Post

Have you been to the new Knox?

We have been working diligently the last few years to improve our school. Public schools have so many great things going on each and every day and most of it goes unnoticed. Many educators are perfectly content with that — we are here for the kids and we focus our attention on setting them up for successful futures. However, today we want to share some of the recent successes at Knox. While the school grade often catches the headlines, there is much more to a school than a letter grade.

Since the 2013-2014 school year, we have improved our student attendance rate by 33 percent. We know students can’t learn when they are absent from school, so we have worked hard to create an environment of high expectations while making sure our students know how much we care about them as people.

This year our staff attendance is on pace to increase 47 percent in the same time frame. We are working hard to make our school a place where students and teachers are excited each and every day.

Since at least 2008 the North Carolina Department of Instruction has had a “low-performing” school list. We know that Knox had been on this list every year since at least 2008. This is a stigma nobody wants. While we question the method of determining how a school ends up on this list, it is clear it is a list nobody wants to be on. We were thrilled when we learned Knox was removed from the list after this past school year. While we know we have a long way to go, we are excited with our progress, and being removed from this list reaffirms our success.

Our academic achievement levels have increased across the board. In some areas it has improved by 13 percent. This is a great amount of growth in a short period of time. The state of North Carolina recognized us for our growth by giving us an “exceeds growth” rating, which is the highest a school can receive.

Our school grade improved from an F to a D. We think it is important to explain how a school grade is calculated. This varies from state to state.

The school grade for middle schools in North Carolina is determined by growth and achievement on end of grade assessments. Eighty percent of the grade is determined by academic achievement and 20 percent is determined by growth.

Is this a fair way to determine the quality of a school? Does it truly measure the impact a school has on a child? If a school has 80 percent of their sixth-grade students arrive on grade level the first day of school, do they have a built-in advantage over school with 10 percent of their students arriving on grade level? At Knox, 14 of our 200 sixth-grade students arrived on grade level in reading last year. When 80 percent of our school grade is determined by academic achievement, it puts us at a sizeable disadvantage compared to other schools.

We welcome accountability, but we wonder if a better way to determine school effectiveness would be to place a heavier emphasis on growth?

The numbers below show what our school grade at Knox would be based on the amount of emphasis placed on student academic growth.

80% achievement and 20% growth D
60% achievement and 40% growth C
34% achievement and 66% growth B
9%  achievement and   91% growth A

We would like to thank our students, teachers, parents/guardians and the entire community for helping make our school a place where high levels of learning take place every day. The old saying of “it takes a village” is more true now than ever before. We look forward to continuing our journey to become the best middle school in the United States.

Dr. Michael Waiksnis is principal and Christopher McNeil is deputy principal at the Knox Center for Accelerated Studies (Knox Middle School).