Excellence the focus of Royal Oak Schools’ annual address

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published April 29, 2015

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ROYAL OAK — If you were to ask Royal Oak Schools Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin what the school district’s goal is, he would reply “excellence.”

That message was communicated the evening of April 23 at the Royal Oak State of the Schools Address. About 50 people attended the event held at the new district administrative offices on the north side of the Churchill Community Education Center, on DeVillen Avenue.

“We are the Royal Oak Schools, a community of excellence,” Lewis-Lakin said. “When we say we are a community of excellence, that is not a tagline. That is our mission. Our vision. That is what we are about.”

The superintendent boasted that student achievement is significantly above county and state averages. Since 2011, scores on standardized state tests have improved in 16 of 17 tested areas; college entrance exam scores are at an all-time high;  Royal Oak High School graduates are highly competitive in admissions to selective post-secondary opportunities; and the number of “passed” Advanced Placement tests, with a score of 3 or higher, is at an all-time high.

The district is working through International Baccalaureate programs and innovating and collaborating in new ways to address the needs of diverse students, he said.

According to a study conducted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Royal Oak High School received a Context and Performance of 103.6, indicating that it outperforms its demographics. Lewis-Lakin said the report attempts to place achievement scores into a socioeconomic context and shows that ROHS is doing better than neighboring high schools in the Berkley, Clawson, Madison and Lamphere districts in that regard.

“Our core product is learning,” Lewis-Lakin said.

The district added two new positions through attrition: supervisor for elementary instruction and supervisor for secondary instruction.

“There is a lot going on in teaching and learning, and we have two dedicated people now who are focused on that area,” Lewis-Lakin said.

But, the superintendent said, there are a lot of things in the schools that assessment data does not measure.

“We are as proud of how our students perform on what is not assessed through a standardized test as we are around how they perform on standardized assessments,” Lewis-Lakin said.

Other accolades include those earned in the art room, on the athletic field, and through philanthropic clubs, band, orchestra, community service work and in video production labs.

Lewis-Lakin announced that three of 16 U.S. summer fellowships offered by C-SPAN went to Royal Oak students.

Lewis-Lakin said other top performances include Artsonia and division championship titles in boys and girls swimming, as well as in girls basketball and bowling.

“We teach character in our schools,” Lewis-Lakin said. “We want our schools to reflect the values of the community, and Royal Oak is a community that values service, and so we see that in our students.”

The superintendent also highlighted districtwide improvements throughout the year, including the administrative offices’ move from their former Lexington Boulevard location to their new home at Churchill Community Education Center. The project, including renovating the area where student services are offered at Churchill, totaled $4.5 million and was paid for with 2014 sinking fund money and property maintenance funds.

That move and other initiatives were made possible through the community’s approval of the 1-mill sinking fund levied in November 2012.

The district was able to lower its debt levy and its non-homestead levy so there would be no net increase in taxpayers’ overall tax rate.

“So you were able, as a community, to authorize the 1-mill sinking fund without having a net increase in your taxes,” Lewis-Lakin said. “That gives us an ongoing revenue stream that is restricted by law for capital projects.”

Other projects have included paving the high school and middle school parking lots, replacing bleachers at the high school, creating secure entries at Oak Ridge and Oakland elementary schools, and myriad paving and mechanical work.

The superintendent asked during the address for continued support and parental advocacy during times of funding uncertainty.

The district is cautiously eyeing future state funding following Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2015-16 state budget.

Lewis-Lakin said that although the governor boasted of a $75 increase in foundation grants, or per-pupil funding, during his Feb. 11 presentation, less publicized cuts proposed as part of the $54 billion state budget would mean a loss of about a quarter of a million dollars for Royal Oak Schools.

District officials said that the overall financial impact of the state budget proposal looks like this for the district:

• $375,000 total increase in per-pupil funding.

• $500,000 total loss from eliminating performance-based funding.

• $150,000 total loss from eliminating best-practice-based funding.

The net effect, Lewis-Lakin said, would leave the district with a $275,000 budget shortfall for the 2015-16 school year.

The district currently has 4,697 students in kindergarten through 12th grade and receives $8,688 per pupil.

The superintendent said that the district has been declining in state revenue since the 2008-09 school year, when it received $9,340 for each student.

One alternative to increase district revenue would be an influx of students, but that doesn’t appear likely.

According to a study by Plante Moran CRESA, the district will stay stagnant in enrollment through 2019. Studies project the district will have about 4,799 K-12 students in 2019-20 school year.

Lewis-Lakin also expressed his gratitude to the greater community, the Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce and city leaders for their support.

“Great schools equal a great community equal great businesses,” he said.

Royal Oak Mayor Pro Tem David Poulton attended the event and said he agreed that the district and the community are interrelated. Poulton’s children are involved in Royal Oak Schools, and he is a member of the city-school liaison board.

“I think the schools are a keystone and a major part of any community,” Poulton said.

He added that a successful district like Royal Oak attracts families, which enables the community to thrive.

Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison was unable to attend the event due to a task force meeting, but he remarked the next day on the importance of the district.

“I’ve always said that the schools are such an important factor in our community,” Ellison said. “We can do all the things that we want in our downtown and such, but we need good schools to attract families in.”

Ellison said he takes great pride in the quality of the educational system in Royal Oak.

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