Polk Schools ranked as one of the top achieving districts in the state

Published 10:00 pm Monday, November 7, 2016

The banners touting Polk County Schools’ success on 2015-2016 state examinations began popping up around the area a few weeks ago.

Superintendent Aaron Greene felt it important to recognize the achievement given the effort put forth by so many students, teachers and parents in the district.

“We are extremely proud of our students, school staff, families, and community,” Greene said. “We believe in maintaining high expectations for their achievement, working to meet the needs of each student and providing children with the best educational experiences possible.

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“Our success as a district is not due to one single program, group, or effort – it is the combined effect of tremendous community support, caring and hard-working educators and families and students who value education and partner with our schools.”

Yet as proud of the results as Greene and others are, it is the goal of continuous improvement across all efforts and disciplines that occupies the focus of officials at the district and school levels. Rather than defining Polk County Schools, officials see the test success as the result of a broader process, one that often brings educators from other districts around the state to Polk County to attempt to learn from its approach.

“Test scores are important to us. Teachers do use those to inform and guide their instructional theme for the next year,” said Dave Scherping, Polk County Schools accountability and technology director. “Each teacher uses those as a measure of improvement for the next year.

“But test scores are not the end all, be all. We believe there’s a lot more to what our schools are about beyond test scores. . . our schools haven’t forgotten all the other things that schools are about. That really is the specialty of Polk County Schools, maintaining that balance.”

The numbers from North Carolina’s 2015-2016 end-of-grade and end-of-class exams reflect part of that balance. Polk County students had the second-highest percentage of students passing both exams in the state as well as the second-highest percentage of students passing the combined exams. Only Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools surpassed the performance of Polk County’s schools.

The district’s younger students performed exceptionally well, as Polk County third and fourth graders had the highest percentage of students passing all tests of any district in the state. 

Polk County Schools director of curriculum Ronette Dill has seen firsthand the work that Polk County’s elementary school teachers do, having served as Saluda Elementary’s principal for 11 years before moving earlier this year to the district office. She has also seen the value the yearly test data can provide in helping teachers continue to grow and develop students.

“Our teachers, in order to best meet the individual needs of Polk County students, first focus on building positive relationships with students and then look closely at the data provided from formative and summative assessments,” Dill said. “For example, data from mClass Reading 3D benchmark assessments and progress monitoring in grades K-3 is used to individualize literacy instruction to help ensure that each child grows academically throughout the year.

“In the area of mathematics, K-8 teachers are meeting in grade level groups, participating in professional development activities and sharing best practices, resources and model lessons with one another. Professional educators sharing their expertise with one another is a key component in our plan for continuous improvement.” 

Hand-in-hand with the EOC and EOG scores is the School Performance Grade, a letter grade assigned to each school based on a formula that seeks to measure student growth on standardized tests from one year to the next. The grade represents a weighted average of the percentage of students scoring at or above proficient on end-of-course and end-of-grade exams and the percentage of students reaching expected growth levels. 

All seven Polk County schools scored a B or higher in 2015-2016, making Polk County Schools the only district in the state to have all of its schools score at least a B on the SPG, which uses student growth as its key factor.

Such success has become common for the district in recent years, and Greene pointed to several factors as to why.

“I attribute a lot of our success to the partnership we have with the parents and the community,” he said. “The parents and the community expect their kids to be in school and expect their kids to be working hard and doing well. Our teachers don’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time on discipline.

“The small class sizes and the relationships our teachers have with our kids is important. Our county commissioners do a wonderful job every year providing us with local funding that allows us to hire more teachers. More teachers means we can provide students with instruction that matches the needs of our kids because our teachers know their kids so well.”

Polk County Schools also seeks to offer enrichment and learning opportunities outside the traditional K-12 structure and school day. The district offers preschool programs at all four elementary schools for both three and four-year-olds as well as an extensive afterschool program, available at all four elementary schools as well as Polk County Middle School, that provides students a supervised environment in which to work on assignments.

“We offer a lot of opportunities for extra instruction,” Greene said.

Officials also work to understand the needs of teachers and learn more about successes at the classroom level with a tour of all schools at the end of each school year.

“We visit every school, and we talk with teachers and say to them, tell us what worked well and what didn’t work as well,” Scherping said. “Once again, we’re empowering the teacher, asking them to sit down with us and tell us what is working and talk about what they need to grow and be more successful.”


The formula is one that the district will continue to use for the good of Polk County students. If ranking as one of the state’s top school districts follows suit, all the better.

“We’re proud of the results. We expect those results,” Greene said. “But we understand how fragile a balance it is. At any given moment things can change.

“That’s why it is important for us to focus on how we can keep improving, where we are being effective and where a change or more work needs to be done. We are fortunate to be in such a wonderful place where our families and community support education and Polk County Schools.”

– article submitted by PolkStudents.com