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Kelliher staff and students celebrate success

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Kelliher School staff and students celebrated their successful 2010-2011 school year with a party for all students Oct. 7. The district was one of the dwindling number of schools and districts throughout the state that, according to the Minnesota Department of Education, was making annual yearly progress based on MCA test scores.

The celebration included cupcakes, ice cream, and inflatable games for the whole school.

"When everyone shares in the effort to succeed, everyone should celebrate the benefits and share in the credit," says Tim Lutz, Superintendent of Kelliher Schools. "We have a superb staff who truly vest themselves in the development of the whole student in terms of academics, behaviors and social-emotional growth and that investment is beginning to pay off handsomely across all grade levels."

Kelliher School which was not making adequate yearly progress in math at the high school level in 2009-2010, improved their proficiency enough to be deemed making AYP. According to John Carlson District Assessment Coordinator, "Comparing last year's math results with this year's is difficult as they are based on two different tests. In 2011, Minnesota implemented the MCA III math test aligned to new, more rigorous standards. An oversimplification of these standards is: all juniors are able to pass Algebra II. With the only exception being last year's fourth grade, Kelliher students had a higher proficiency rate than the State of Minnesota. In fact our Junior class had 61.6% proficient compared to the State rate of 48.6%. We are confident that our students are continually growing"

According to Lutz, school officials are also celebrating another marker of success from last year. Kelliher School participated in the Hope Study, a four-year study financed through a grant from the Blandin Foundation, focusing on how schools are instrumental in creating the environment that either helps or hinders students in developing and growing. A leading theory of positive youth development discusses the importance of the school environment in general terms, referring to "developmental assets" that include "school connection" and "school engagement".

In a report written by the authors of the Hope Study, "The intent was to work with each school staff to implement customized, developmentally-directed reforms that will enable each school to play a healthier, more positive role in the lives of their students. The relative successes of these reforms are measured using the instruments in the Hope Study."

Kelliher staff worked with the researchers and developed positive, student-centered approaches to help students grow and learn. New programs helped students gain a stronger sense of autonomy, self-directedness and hope, which, in turn, gave them the confidence to work harder in school. According to Lutz, "The additional programs we've added while participating in the Hope Study have created a positive spiraling effect where an increased sense of hope and autonomy have led to an improved work ethic, which, in turn, has helped our students make impressive gains in areas such as reading and mathematics."

Kelliher School was invited to be a participant in the study because of its high minority population, as well as a high level of poverty. The authors wanted to work with schools that had achievement gaps in order to test their theory that when schools focus on students' needs, they will see positive results in learning and will begin to close the achievement gap.

"Our results were off the charts and it's time to celebrate our achievements and let our staff and students know how proud we are," Lutz added.

According to Dean of Students, Mary Lundin, the improved culture at Kelliher School did more than improve test scores. "We have found that our disciplinary referrals are down and our attendance has improved. As a result, our enrollment has jumped as more and more students want to come here to learn."

Lundin's assessment is supported by the Hope Study. The report cites: "In addition, attendance jumped from 93% to 98% in the past two years and referrals are down to a third of what they had been. Students are now coming to school, behaving in their best interests and are therefore achieving. Overall, the Kelliher experience was one of the most exhilarating experiences in the Hope Study program.