Three area schools were among a group of 235 educational facilities recognized for high student achievement or continuous improvement under the Virginia Board of Education’s new exemplar performance school recognition program.

Martinsville High School, Martinsville Middle School and Magna Vista High School all won the Continuous Improvement Award, among 183 schools were recognized across the state.

The award champions educational programs geared toward student success and recognizes each facility’s achievements.

“The exemplar performance awards criteria are designed to complement the commonwealth’s recently revised accreditation standards and help school divisions focus resources where they are most needed to ensure that all children are receiving a high-quality education,” Board of Education President Daniel A. Gecker said. “The awards recognize schools that are exceeding state accreditation standards and schools that are making continuous improvement in improving outcomes for students and in narrowing achievement gaps.”

There are several criteria that schools must meet before receiving either the Highest Achievement Award or the Continuous Improvement Award.

The Highest Achievement Award goes to schools earning a state accreditation rating of Accredited, having a 70% pass rate on state assessments in science and mathematics and having a 75% pass rate on state assessments in English reading and writing, among other criteria.

Schools winning the Continuous Improvement Award must earn a state accreditation rating of Accredited or Accredited with Conditions and meet at least one of four benchmarks, including cumulative 10-point increases over a 3-year period in reading, mathematics and science, the same increases for two or more student groups, a cumulative 15% decrease in the chronic absenteeism rate over three years, with a decrease each year, and a cumulative 4-point increase in the Graduation and Completion Index over three years, with an increase each year, and a cumulative 15% decrease in the dropout rate, with a decrease each year.

In Martinsville City Public Schools and Henry County Public Schools, each of the four areas highlighted by the award are important. However, the two Martinsville schools met all four criteria for the award.

MCPS Superintendent Zeb Talley said that both schools improved in reading and math, not only for all of the students, but for all of the subgroups.

Martinsville Middle School increased by 18 points in reading during the past three years for a combined rate of 78.36% on the state reading assessment. Also, Martinsville Middle School increased math performance by 27 points to have an 84% combined rate.

MHS increased reading by 12 points and math by 18 points to have pass rates of 88% in reading and 84% in math.

“Reading and math are invaluable life skills and are key to being college- and career-ready, and we have been working very closely with area businesses to ensure our students have the skills they need,” Talley said. “In fact, 100% of our graduating seniors earned at least one industry certification this year.”

HCPS also puts a big focus on reading and math in its curriculum.

“Math and reading are foundational to everything we all do each day,” said Monica Hatchett, HCPS director of communications and organizational learning. “These critical skills will support students in other areas of learning as well as throughout their lives in both their careers and in the hobbies they enjoy.

Both county and city educational facilities also put an emphasis on coming to school and staying in class.

Hatchett called attendance and graduation rates high priorities.

“Our school staff works very closely with students beginning in Grade 9 to keep students on track to graduate with their cohort group,” Hatchett said. “Over the course of the last several years, we have seen steady graduation rates in Henry County and expect that trend to continue.”

Both city schools that received the award decreased chronic absenteeism. Martinsville High School saw a 10-point decrease and Martinsville Middle School experienced a 4-point decline in the number of chronically absent students. Also, Martinsville High School increased the Graduation Index to 90.38%.

Winning the Continuous Improvement Award shines a spotlight on the three area schools for their broad achievements, but administrators say it’s the individuals within each building who made the award possible.

“The culture of our school has changed to one where teachers and students are taking the lead in promoting academic and social achievement,” Talley said. “Students want to be successful and teachers want to support them in that success. Our leadership is focused on the success and development of students and teachers. We are very proud of our new culture and can see its impact in the accomplishments of our academic and social goals.”

Charles Byrd, Magna Vista High School principal, gave the credit to the individuals that walk the halls every day.

“This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the faculty and staff of Magna Vista High School,” Byrd said. “The undying commitment of our staff and parents to the success of the students in our community shows each day as they work to do their very best for every student, all of whom work so diligently to achieve the educational goals they have set for themselves.”

Talley said winning the award meant a lot to him because he came on board as the superintendent in 2016, a time when Martinsville schools struggled with accreditation.

“It’s a great honor and shows that our students and teachers have worked hard during the past three years to improve where we are instructionally and academically,” Talley said. “It is recognition of our school division moving forward in its goal to give our students the best education possible. It also speaks to the growth of our community in terms of having a skilled workforce to attract and retain businesses in our area.”

Amie Knowles can be reached at amierknowles@gmail.com

Amie Knowles can be reached at amierknowles@gmail.com

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