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Student achievement, high school completion exemplary in Avon

Avon sixth-graders participate in a classroom activity on Monday morning. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)1 / 2
Avon sixth-graders participate in a classroom activity on Monday morning. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)2 / 2

AVON — Striving to continue strong academic achievement in Avon is undoubtedly on the minds of school officials.

Classified as exemplary schools by the South Dakota Department of Education, Avon High School and elementary school are both ranked among the top 5 percent of schools in the state. And with that status comes unforeseen rewards, according to Superintendent Tom Culver.

"We've had people new to the area research our district and come across that and be drawn in," Culver said. "We advertise that."

To earn the exemplary status, schools must score in the top 5 percent in the state on a scale based on student achievement, high school completion, college and career readiness, academic growth and more. Joining the two Avon schools with this ranking in The Daily Republic's coverage area were Montrose High School and Jones County High School.

Schools haven't been reclassified since the 2014-15 school year, but a new classification system has been devised and will be released with the South Dakota state report cards in 2018, based on the 2016-17 school year.

And with new classifications looming, Culver said the Avon School District continues strive for improvements in math, a subject in which the state struggles.

With a combined 39 years of teaching experience in Avon, the district's two math teachers pushed Avon to an 88.24 percent math college readiness on the DOE's state report card this year, more than 30 percent higher than the state average of 55.44 percent.

Tenured employees anchor the staff in most areas, creating an educational environment that allows students to grow with many of the same faces each year. That allows the teachers to identify students who may have issues and collaborate to create a solution, Culver said.

"They work hard to provide what each student needs to succeed, and they work together a lot of the time to do that," he said.

And to improve in English and reading, school officials have made a point to purchase books for the school library that appeal to boys and girls of all ages and skill levels so nobody is discouraged, Culver added.

But if Avon wants to maintain its exemplary status, there's work to be done.

Attendance in the elementary school is spotty, Culver said, which could potentially limit the amount young students are able to learn at a crucial point in their education.

With that in mind, Culver said it will be one of the district's top goals in the coming years to keep students, both young and old, in the classroom.

"You can't learn if you're not in school," Culver said. "That's something that concerns me and we're conscious of that as an area to improve."

'I'm really proud'

In Montrose, students have been challenged to improve writing, communication and explanatory skills, beginning in kindergarten, Superintendent Lonny Johnson said. And although still a weakness that will continue to be worked on, Johnson said students have improved significantly over the past three years.

"It's a whole school effort that we've had, emphasizing writing and being able to explain your answers and thoughts," Johnson said. "We keep emphasizing that and it covers all curricular areas."

And the students' improvement can be credited to a veteran staff, Johnson added.

With low turnover rates among staff and small enrollment, students are often paired with the same teachers for each subject throughout all four years of high school, allowing teachers to become familiar with each student's strengths and weaknesses.

"They can really help students progress from year to year that way," Johnson said. "From a superintendent standpoint, I'm really proud of our students and the hard work our teachers put into preparing them for state tests."

Jones County Superintendent Lorrie Esmay echoed Johnson, giving much of her district's academic success to the "competitive" students, who push each other to success.

"If you have a group of studious students, you'll be exemplary," Esmay said. "Kids rise up to challenges."

School performance index

Following is a list of region high schools and how they were classified in the state's school performance index for the 2014-15 school year, the last time the South Dakota Department of Education released such information. New classifications will be released in 2018, based on the 2016-17 school year. Classifications for middle and elementary schools are available at

Progressing (schools whose total SPI score is above the bottom 5 percent and below the top 10 percent): Andes Central, Armour, Bridgewater-Emery, Burke, Canistota, Chamberlain, Colome, Corsica-Stickney, Ethan, Freeman, Hanson, Howard, Kimball, McCook Central, Mitchell, Mount Vernon, Parkston, Plankinton, Platte-Geddes, Scotland, Tripp-Delmont, Wagner, Winner, Woonsocket.

Status (schools whose total SPI score is at or above the top 10 percent, excluding exemplary schools): Bon Homme, Sanborn Central.

Exemplary (schools whose overall SPI score is at or above the top 5 percent): Avon, Jones County, Montrose.

Not ranked due to size: South Central.