Schools make grade in annual report

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TRENTON — In spite of a generally favorable status report, Trenton Public Schools Supt. Rodney Wakeham said the district is hardly ready to rest on any earned laurels.

The State of the Schools summary presented during Monday’s school board meeting offered reasons for encouragement for gains made, yet maintained a cautious approach to the future.

“One of the questions is: Was some of our (academic) growth a one-year opportunity, or can it be sustained?” Wakeham said.

Academic achievements as reported to the board indicated that educational strategies have been working.

MEAP scores at Anderson and Hedke elementary schools and Arthurs Middle School exceeded state averages; elementary scores revealed a positive trend line in most subjects, although science and social studies fell behind state averages for eighth grade students. Trenton High School students exceeded state and national ACT averages and on the Michigan Merit Exam.

Wakeham said educational success — as with a stabilized financial report — can be attributed to efforts made two or three years ago to correct problem areas.

“I really feel that some of the strategies and initiatives that we’ve worked into our curriculum are having positive impact,” Wakeham said. “Our goal this year is to see which of those are sustaining the positive growth.”

Academics were just one challenge facing the district in recent years, which — as with most Downriver schools — wrestled with declining enrollment, population and revenue. Previous administrations had, Wakeham said, made the necessary adjustments: Bus service had been privatized and teachers laid off when a budget deficit had to be addressed.

Habits formed during lean years continue to keep spending in check.

“Stability is a compliment to everyone in the district,” Wakeham said. “We’re spending the district money wisely, trying to save pennies and dollars and put more into the classrooms.”

More dollars may be available if certain trends continue. Wakeham said that against predictions for Wayne County, student enrollment over the past three years has remained stable, and new residents may have helped slow a trend of reduction.

“I’m surprised we were able to maintain our student population as well as we did,” Wakeham said. “The move-ins were something unexpected.”

The district graduated 226 students this year and enrolled 135 students in kindergarten; however, early reports from each grade level indicate unexpected gains in student numbers, and Wakeham expects some positive news on “count day” Wednesday.

Stability, Wakeham said, will allow administrators to focus on problem areas, deficiencies he said included student performance gaps between high achievers and sub-groups including students with disabilities or who are economically disadvantaged. While many subject areas showed improvement, the district remained under pressure to meet all requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2001.

Areas that need improvement, Wakeham said, will hopefully benefit from the same long-term planning that has proven successful for other issues.

“We’d like to close those gaps and improve their performance to be the same as the rest of the population,” Wakeham said. “We look at a five-year trend and keep it moving in a positive direction as we move forward and make small adjustments.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)