Most PW-S schools earn high marks; TJMS struggles

Elementary schools, PWHS excel on state report cards but middle school scores lowest in county
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Washington-Saukville School District’s three elementary schools and its high school earned high marks on state report cards released last week but the middle school’s scores have educators pouring over data in an attempt to explain its low marks.

Lincoln, Dunwiddie and Saukville elementary schools all achieved the highest ranking — significantly exceeds expectations — on their 2017-18 report cards, a state accountability measure intended to differentiate the performance of districts and schools throughout the state.

Port Washington High School achieved the second-highest ranking — exceeds expectations — and had the second-highest score of the six high schools, including Cedar Grove-Belgium High School, in Ozaukee County. Only Homestead High School in Mequon had a higher score.

Thomas Jefferson Middle School met state expectations but was the lowest scoring of the county’s seven middle schools. All other county middle schools either exceeded or significantly exceeded expectations.

The district expects all its schools to do more than just meet expectations, Supt. Michael Weber said.

“The middle school met expectations, and that’s fine, but we strive to be more than just fine,” he said. “We could settle for meeting expectations, but that’s not what we’re about. We strive to excel beyond that.”

As a whole, the Port Washington-Saukville School District exceeded expectations, but with its score weighed down by the middle school performance, it ranked second lowest among the six districts in the county. 

State report cards measure the performance of public and some private schools — those that participate in the parental choice program — in four primary areas:

n Student achievement, which measures knowledge and skills and includes a composite of reading and math performance on the Wisconsin Student Assessment System.

n Growth, which gauges how much student knowledge of reading and math changes from year to year. 

n Closing gaps, which shows how schools are narrowing the divide in terms of academic achievement and graduation between the majority of students and those in lower-performing groups such as students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students.

n On-track to graduation and postsecondary readiness, which includes attendance, graduation rates, third-grade reading and eighth-grade math test scores and ACT participation and performance.

Thomas Jefferson Middle School, which scored 71.7 on its report card, struggled in the areas of school growth and closing gaps, where its scores were lower than the state average.

“I was initially surprised by the scores, but I do know there are steps being taken to shore things up at the middle school,” Chris Surfus, the district’s director of curriculum, said. 

Surfus, who said the district’s data team will begin analyzing the middle school report card next month, noted that the school is in the process of changing not only its curriculum but the entire culture.

“We have new leaders there who are trying to make some really great changes,” she said. “But it’s going to take some time.”

Thomas Jefferson Middle School Principal Steve Sukawaty, who was hired in 2016 to replace the school’s longtime leader, Arlan Galarowicz, said the school is going through some “growing pains” as it makes significant changes, including a new communications curriculum.

When asked if the report card scores were lower than he expected, Sukawaty said, “Yes and no. We’re a school undergoing some pretty significant changes in our curriculum, and change is hard. It takes a little while for our kids and teachers to get used to it.”

Administrators noted that the size and diversity of a middle school with nearly 800 students in fifth through eighth grades present challenges.

“Big schools are like ships. They don’t turn on a dime. It takes some time to make changes,” Sukawaty said. “But we’re headed in the right direction. I think our curriculum is good.”

In terms of diversity, 18.4% of the middle school students are classified as students with disabilities and 21.9% are considered economically disadvantaged.

“The state average for students with disabilities is about 12%, so we’re more than six points higher than that,” Sukawaty said. “That’s significant, and it is a challenge, but that’s why I’m so thankful we have a terrific special education staff in this district.”

Despite the challenges, he said, the school needs to perform better on the state report card.

“There’s no excuse,” Sukawaty said. “We need to improve.”

Administrators praised the performance of Lincoln, Dunwiddie and Saukville elementary schools, which had overall report card scores of 86.6, 86.0 and 85.7, respectively, and the high school, which achieved a score of 81.1.

“To have all three of our elementary schools significantly exceed expectations and our high school perform as well as it did is quite a remarkable thing,” Weber said. “I attribute that to the quality of our staff. We’re seeing the results of our commitment to hiring only the best.”

Port High Principal Eric Burke said that in addition to having solid test scores, the school fared well because state report cards measure other factors that are important measures of school success. For instance, Port High had a nearly perfect score in the area of on-track and postsecondary readiness because of its 97.9% graduation rate.

“We don’t spend a lot of time thumping our chests over tests scores, but as people make decisions about where to live and which schools to send their children to, things like report cards are important, and it’s important that we tell our story,” Burke said. 


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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