Friday, August 26, 2016

Sallisaw Schools Focuses on Academic Success

Shannon Vann, left, Sallisaw Chamber of Commerce president, presented Sallisaw Schools with the Sallisaw Chamber Member of the Month Award at the chamber membership meeting Aug. 24. Accepting are, from his left, Ernie Martens, Bobby Qualls, School Superintendent Scott Farmer, Justin McGrew, Frank Sullivan III, Russel Tillery (behind Sullivan), Diane Tillery, Toni Jasna, Martha Howell, Chad Jasna and Greg Cast.

Sallisaw Schools was named the Sallisaw Chamber of Commerce Member of the Month at the chamber’s membership meeting Aug. 24.

When presenting the award, Chamber President Shannon Vann noted the school system has 2,000 students and is one of the largest employers in the county.

He said Sallisaw Schools “offers many subjects and strives for academic excellence.”

School Superintendent Scott Farmer, school administrators and board members accepted the award.

Academic success is the goal at Sallisaw Schools, Farmer said in an interview. To achieve that goal, the schools have implemented several new programs.

One of those is simultaneous enrollment with Carl Albert State College (CASC) of Poteau and Sallisaw. Farmer explained this program allows high school students to take the class in high school, and get credit for both high school and college. The class is an advanced class, and the teachers are credentialed for college level instruction.

The program is set up presently for English composition, but the school hopes to add math, science and history.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure our kids get prepared for college and get college credit. It’s a bit of a segue into college,” Farmer said.

The simultaneous enrollment program is in addition to concurrent enrollment, in which high school juniors and seniors may also take CASC classes.

To encourage college preparation, Oklahoma schools now offer free ACTs, the test for college admission, to all high school juniors.

State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister announced this week that the number of Oklahoma juniors taking the ACT in 2016 skyrocketed by at least 58 percent over 2015. Last spring, the Oklahoma State Department of Education offered an ACT pilot program that enabled all public high school juniors in the state to take the exam at no cost to districts or students. Nearly every eligible high school participated, with 457 of 459 taking advantage of the voluntary program. In all, 35,477 juniors took the ACT as part of the initiative, compared to 22,500 the year before.

“Clearly, more of our students are exploring the possibility of extending their education beyond high school,” Hofmeister said. ”More students having access to college-entrance exams means new on-ramps to post-secondary education. This is an important and positive trend, since an estimated 62 percent of Oklahoma jobs will require a post-secondary education by 2020.”

Farmer said, “We encourage every junior to take the ACT on our campus.”

But Sallisaw Schools starts even sooner than the junior year. Sallisaw Schools start students toward a college education in the third grade.

Farmer explained that program is called the ACT Aspire program. This program, he said, is a suite of assessments. The students are tested three times a year, every year, to determine if their learning is preparing them for entrance exams and college.

In Sallisaw Schools, the ACT Aspire program is just beginning its third year, so those students will be juniors before they take the ACTs.

“It’s going to take some time,” Farmer said about the program.

Still, Sallisaw Schools are not lagging behind in college preparedness. Farmer said Sallisaw students’ ACT scores are higher than the state average, which is 20.7. Sallisaw students score, on average, a 21.6, Farmer said.

“Our kids are over performing and we’re very proud of that,” Farmer said. “We’re proud of our teachers and our students.”

Farmer said 81 percent of Sallisaw’s students are completing the college-bound curriculum, and about 40 percent go on to enroll in in-state colleges. Farmer said that percentage is inaccurate, because students attending out-of-state colleges are not counted and included, such as those who attend the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith and Fayetteville. It is estimated at least another 4 to 5 percent of Sallisaw students attend out-of-state colleges.

“Close to half of our students are going on to the next level of education,” Farmer said.

Sallisaw Schools was honored to be named the chamber’s Member of the Month, Farmer said. He concluded, “We are honored by the recognition and proud to be a partner with the community.”

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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