MARION — The holidays are just around the corner, but Marion Elementary School just got one of the biggest "presents" ever.
Recently, it was announced the elementary was named a 2019 National Elementary and Secondary Education Act Distinguished School, which is given to a maximum of 100 schools annually throughout the country. The recognition is given by the National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators.
The ESEA provides resources for vulnerable students and federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of public elementary and secondary education. As a National ESEA Distinguished School, Marion Elementary is one of only two schools in the state to receive the recognition for exceptional student achievement in 2019.
Marion Elementary Principal/Marion Public Schools Superintendent Chris Arrington said the elementary school prides itself in serving rural, northern Michigan families.
Marion Public Schools and the elementary prioritized the investment in a "Whole Child" philosophy, which focused on connecting with students to ensure successes in both the classroom and throughout life. Arrington said before the improvements in the students' scores on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress or M-STEP, the staff started with teaching character education and the idea that hard work pays off.
"We started having student rewards, not for success, but work ethic. We looked at the situation and started with the end in mind and our kids answered the bell," Arrington said. "I think the kids needed to know we believed in them and they absolutely delivered."
What they delivered was staggering increases in student achievement on the M-STEP, which not only included increased student proficiency but also leaving state averages in the rearview mirror.
From the 2017-18 school year to the 2018-19 school year, students excelled in English Language Arts. In third grade proficiency, the elementary school saw an increase of nearly 51% going from 22.7% to 73.3%. That state average for third-grade proficiency is roughly 45%. In fourth grade English Language Arts proficiency, students jumped nearly 60%. Proficiency went from just under 36% to 95%. The state average for fourth grade is roughly 46%.
For the M-STEP mathematics test, Marion's third-grade proficiency went up by about 50% from less than 20% to 70% proficient. The state average is roughly 47%. Fourth-grade proficiency for math increased by roughly 11% which increased from about 39% to 50%. The state average is roughly 42%. Finally, Marion's fifth-grade proficiency in math slightly declined from 37.1% to 35.7% but remained above the state average of roughly 35%.
With the school recently finding out about the designation, Arrington said how it will be celebrated at the school and in the community is still in discussions. He did say he would like to do an assembly for the students, but also have a community celebration. The formal recognition by the National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators will not occur until February, Arrington said.
Earning this designation is not the ending of the work they started, but rather the starting point, Arrington said.
"This is the beginning. We will always make tweaks and always get better," he said. "This was a shot in the arm for the staff to feel good about what they are doing. It is really the best 'warm and fuzzy' I have witnessed in my career."