UHS one of 27 schools to come off state’s priority school list

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published April 29, 2015

 University High School in Ferndale was recently taken off the Michigan Department of Education’s priority list that tracks the bottom 5 percent of schools when it comes to academic achievement.

University High School in Ferndale was recently taken off the Michigan Department of Education’s priority list that tracks the bottom 5 percent of schools when it comes to academic achievement.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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FERNDALE — In the past five years, University High School in Ferndale has seen student achievement on state assessments continue to improve, thus UHS was one of 27 schools to come off the Michigan Department of Education’s priority list April 16.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan announced that 27 schools, which had been on the priority list since 2010, had made the necessary improvements to be removed from the list. The priority list tracks the state’s bottom 5 percent of schools based on academic achievement.

“When you think about the population University High School is servicing, they are pulling a lot of kids from underperforming elementary or middle schools, and a majority are coming in under their grade level,” Ferndale Superintendent Blake Prewitt said. “By time they graduate, they have jumped years, not just a year’s growth in a year’s time, but multiple years’ growth each year. Without this program, they may never achieve at the level they do by the time they graduate and go to college. UHS is one of the few schools breaking the ranks.”

Being on the priority list meant UHS had to work with state administrators a few times a year to submit its academic documents and discuss growth and implementation of programs to further the achievement of the students. According to the press release, the state focuses on academic growth in math and reading as well as participation in state assessments with schools on the priority list.

Although UHS is now off the list, school officials must still develop and submit school improvement plans to the state to track progression in student achievement.

UHS School Leader Katie Jeffrey said the school sees a 98 percent graduation rate each year and an 80 percent graduation retention rate from alumni. Getting off the priority list just proves that the school is moving in the right direction, she said.

“UHS has a very strong record of success, and I think we have shown growth in our students from year to year,” Jeffrey said. “Success in graduation and college has always been our mission since the inception because we believe in educating the whole child. Test scores are not a single indicator of who students are or their potential.

“Through 10 years, we have stayed the course of being our mission and our vision.”

With the success UHS has seen in graduation numbers and college retention, Prewitt said that while they are happy to be off the priority list, it didn’t define the school, as the district feels UHS is heading in the right direction.

“The list doesn’t say a whole lot about the performance of the school as a whole and what the school is and job they do,” he said. “The administration played the game the state set out to make and made sure they went through the hoops they had to jump through to get off the list.”

In looking at what went right for UHS in the past five years, Jeffrey said success comes not just from the classroom, but also from the partnerships the school has with others in the academic field. The school has a partnership with Wayne State University that allows seniors to take classes on a college campus.

This school year, UHS also partnered with WSU to bring the C2 Pipeline after-school program to Ferndale so students can enrich their academics by taking part in programs that go outside the norm, such as hands-on anatomy seminars and learning improv.

“We have great teachers and great students, and our teachers are extremely committed to the success and growth of the students, both academically and socially,” Jeffrey said. “At any time, we have 60-80 middle schools that feed our school, and with a partnership with Wayne State and the college immersion experience, it gets them turned on to going to college and gives them additional instruction and focus in the classroom.”

As UHS looks to remain off the priority list and continue improvement, Prewitt said the individual attention that each student gets at the school will help UHS continue to grow.

“We will continue to evaluate each and every kid and make sure they are where they need to be to move forward,” he said. “It is not just about academics at UHS, but also the social and emotional side, as students come from everywhere with a certain amount of baggage. At UHS, they get the support they need.”

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