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High marks on state report card reflect smart investments, SMF leaders say

The past three school years presented districts across the country with challenges not seen in a century.

Lockdowns and shutdowns instituted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged educational systems nationwide, forcing schools to walk a delicate tightrope between keeping students and staff safe yet still meeting academic standards.

And judging by the Ohio Department of Education’s State Report Card for the 2021-22 school year, released Sept. 15, many districts, including most in Summit County, still have a ways to go to reach pre-pandemic academic performance levels.

Stow-Munroe Falls City Schools isn’t one of them.

According to the ODE’s report card, SMF schools have rebounded quickly after dropping sharply during the pandemic when they lost 15 points on their Performance Index. SMF’s PI has bounced back to within three points of where it was in 2019. The Performance Index is a calculation that measures student performance on the Ohio State Tests.

Additionally, SMF received four stars each (out of a possible five) in the report card’s Achievement and Progress categories. The ODE considers four and five stars as exceeding expectations.

“As the star rating indicates, we are extremely proud that our students exceeded their academic achievement,” Stow-Munroe Falls Superintendent Tom Bratten said. “What our students and staff have been through over the past two years has presented tremendous challenges, and our results are a nice payoff for the work they all put in to get us to this point.

“One of the things I take great pride in is all of our administrators and administrative team has remained intact and developed a bond and working relationship with one another that has proven to be successful. This consistency and stability have also allowed us to create trust amongst our staff and students, which then made the work that we did possible.”

The high Progress star rating means the district is making significant gains from year to year, while the high Achievement star rating is a reflection of the district’s Performance Index.

“I am bursting with pride and gratitude,” SMF Board of Education President Nancy Brown said. “Our teachers are second to none in their devotion to our students, and the report bears that out. It also affirms that we spent our Covid funds wisely by investing in our staff, tutors and permanent subs. Those funds benefited our students exactly as they were intended.”

Like every other district in Ohio, SMF closed its buildings in March 2020 in response to the rapidly spreading virus. Once the district reopened its buildings in August of that year, it did so in a hybrid model that allowed students to sign up for remote learning if they wished.

It was all part of finding ways to navigate an unprecedented situation. The last time Northeast Ohio schools shut down in such a widespread fashion was during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

Not having every student in the classroom was perhaps the primary obstacle to learning during the pandemic.

“The biggest hurdles were consistency in attendance for both staff and students; anytime one or the other is missing, it affects that continuity of learning that is so vital to our students,” Bratten said. “This is why we invested so much of our money into people to be able to fill in those holes so students wouldn’t miss learning opportunities and could get caught up if they did miss.

“Our number one thing was our floater subs hired at each building. This allowed us to continue to keep our buildings open and our students being educated daily. Our other pieces, such as our tutoring services and summer school and our personalized, individualized work with students, all help our students to succeed in the classroom.”

While the district has made great strides in recovering from pandemic-induced setbacks, Bratten said the work to fully recover isn’t finished.

“There is no mistaking that we still have a lot of catching up to do in a lot of areas with a lot of students,” he said, “but having our students in school every day and in front of us and in situations where they have the ability to be one-on-one and get immediate feedback and help is an advantage that we can never take for granted. I personally believe there is no better education delivered by a caring educator to his or her students. It takes care of so much more than just academics; it allows us to focus on the whole child.

“We are going to continue to assess our students, see where their needs are, and attack those individually with our learners. This individual approach will allow each student to continue to grow academically.”