By Jim Misunas
ROZEL — Pawnee Heights High School has earned a Governor’s Achievement Award for its outstanding performance on both reading and math tests.
The Kansas State Department of Education recognized Pawnee Heights as ranked among the top 5 percent of Kansas high schools in both reading and mathematics on the 2013 Kansas State Assessments. High schools were also measured for graduation rates.
Eighteen Kansas high schools were recognized for the 7th annual Governor’s Achievement Awards, honoring top performing schools in the state.
“It’s an incredibly proud feeling,” said Dan Binder, Pawnee Heights superintendent and principal. “Every one of our teachers is focused on student accomplishment. They work hard and want the students to do well.”
Binder said the small-sized district provides for efficient one-on-one education.
‘We’re a small enough school district that our teachers approach their work like they are teaching a family member,” Binder said. “Each student is treated like one of their own children.”
However, the small size of classes also leaves little room for error. Virtually every student must achieve proficiency to qualify for a Governor’s Award.
Tim Seltmann is the high school math teacher and Larue Cooper serves as junior high math instructor.
“Tim Seltmann teaches our students really well,” Binder said. “When you’re testing four grades at different levels, there has to a foundation for many years before they reach high school. The foundation is laid by a team effort in our district.”
Binder said USD 496 faces similar problems that bigger districts face. Binder said students admitted from other school districts have also achieved success.
“Being small doesn’t give us a unique advantage,” he said. “We have a similar ratio of single-parent households and our free and reduced lunches is similar to larger districts. We face the same struggles for student achievement that other districts face.”
While most high schools were judged on one year’s testing, Pawnee Heights testing was measured over a four-year period.
Just three Pawnee Heights sophomores were tested on reading and mathematics in 2013. The state requires a minimum of 30 students to be tested to qualify for a Governor’s Achievement Award.
Brian McVay, USD 496 director of virtual learning, is responsible for making sure the school adheres to all testing requirements. Testing must be done within a certain time frame and teachers cannot interact with students during testing.
McVay recalled one student who missed math proficiency, but didn’t recall anyone missing the reading proficiency the past few years.
“To reach 30 students, we had to go back several years,” he said. “I was very pleased, but not overly surprised because I see the results every year. We feel good that our students achieve the standard and beyond. The state assessment is set up to meet standards and Pawnee Heights students have attained the standards the state has set.”
McVay believes the students are provided with a solid educational foundation from the start.
“Mr. Seltmann does a terrific job teaching mathematics at the high school level. Mrs. Larue Cooper does an exceptional job teaching math at the junior high level,” he said. “The students are building a solid foundation of learning when they start in kindergarten. I feel blessed to be part of the Pawnee Heights school district.”
Binder will make a formal presentation to the Pawnee Heights USD 496 school board Feb. 10. He said most district patrons probably were unaware of the Governor’s recognition.
“I always enjoy making a ceremony out of it and that’s when I’ll share the good news with our school board,” Binder said.
Binder said a recent trip to Dodge City with some students illustrated small-town life. The group enjoyed lunch at a Wendy’s, and Binder was approached by a gentleman who noticed the students’ friendly demeanor.
“He remarked the students were well behaved, and how respectful and polite they were,” Binder said. “That meant a lot to me. That tells me that teachers and parents are impacting their students to have manners.”
Pawnee Heights earned a Bronze Medal Award in 2010 from U.S. News and World Report. Pawnee Heights Elementary School earned the Governor’s Award three years in a row from 2007 to 2099.
“Our dedicated staff continues to provide a solid, quality education for our students,” Binder said. “The parents have supported our school and the students have worked hard. We continue to reach the Standard of Excellence on the state assessments in math and reading every year.”
Forty-two Kansas elementary schools and 10 middle/junior high schools were recognized. Elementary schools and middle/junior high schools were measured on attendance.
“The Governor’s Achievement Award is a significant recognition for Kansas schools,” said Diane DeBacker, Kansas education commissioner. “The accomplishment recognizes a school’s high expectations and the ability of the school staff to assist students in achieving to those expectations.”