Vermillion schools rank in top 100

Vermillion schools rank in top 100 by M. Jill Karolevitz Tanager pride can go nationwide with the recent release of Offspring magazine's listing of the top 100 schools in the nation, which includes Vermillion.

The magazine enlisted SchoolMatch, a Columbus, OH-based research firm that specializes in public school data, to do an exclusive analysis of 15,892 school districts nationwide. Several socioeconomic factors were considered, after SchoolMatch divided the country into seven geographic regions: New England, Mid Atlantic, South, Great Lakes, Southwest, Plains and Pacific West.

In each region, the firm looked at: living costs (mean income and mean property values); academic performance on SAT and ACT exams; the number of National Merit Scholars each district has produced (per 100 students) since 1985; and expenditures per student (in the classroom, not on capital spending like construction or new buildings). The result was a national percentile ranking in each category by Offspring.

Vermillion's statistics, along with several others on the list, are shown in the chart that accompanies this story on page 11.

In its review of the top 100 school districts in the nation list, Offspring, noted that "few big cities made the cut," with the exception of Dallas, TX, Pittsburgh, PA, and St. Louis, MO. They also noted that "rural gems" such as Littleton, NH, and Judsonia, AR, were not overlooked because of the way SchoolMatch divided the country into different regional and economic groups.

All of the school districts, regardless of economics, ranked in the top 12 percent for academic performance � including House, NM, and Hitchcock, two school districts that place in the bottom 10 percent of the nation in terms of property values and income levels.

The formula also noted wealthy districts, including Winnetka, IL, Chappaqua, NY, Lexington and Wellesley, MA, Simsbury, CT, and Beverly Hills, CA � which all scored in the 99th percentile for academic performance.

School officials in Vermillion are pleased with the report.

"I think this is something the community can take pride in," said Superintendent Robert Mayer. "We try to challenge every kid academically and we try to do the right thing for every student."

He praised the district for its high level of curriculum development and strong leadership in each school. The University of South Dakota also plays a role in the Vermillion School District's ranking, he added.

"The university community makes a lot of difference," Mayer said. "USD impacts us in many ways, including the demand for high quality education. Our offerings are greater than most school districts of our size. We also have more high-performing students per total number of kids compared to other school districts our size. And this community expects us to hire quality staff. Sixty percent of our staff throughout the district have more than bachelor degrees."

Offspring magazine didn't overlook school district proximity to colleges when the top 100 list was calculated.

"More than half (of the school districts on the list) are located in or near colleges," the magazine said. "College towns naturally breed communities that put education first, thanks to the campus influence and the disproportionate number of college professor parents. More important, aggressive districts take advantage of a neighboring college's vast resources."

"Vermillion's ranking shows this community's attitude toward education," said Tom Craig, president of the Vermillion School District's Board of Education. "Our development in the areas of curriculum, technology and extracurricular activities, along with our location here with USD gives us opportunities that traditional rural community schools don't have. We have many positives going for us.

"It's an ongoing, community effort," Craig continued. "We have always had quality teachers who are truly dedicated and work together to do the best for the students. There is also open communication between teachers, the administration and the school board, which illustrates our tremendous team effort. And even without a PTA, parents have shown a continued interest in the education of their children here in Vermillion."

"We have a good school district that tries to work with everyone's needs," added Mark Upward, assistant elementary principal. "That's what makes us strong."

Pat Anderson, Vermillion Middle School principal, agrees.

"We have high expectations for our kids and that pays off in the classroom," he said. "Our teachers use many different strategies to reach everybody in every level. And our test scores show that the kids are learning.

"Vermillion has the right climate to make this (top 100 ranking) happen," Anderson continued. "We hire good staff and encourage their development. They also create a good educational environment, making the kids feel safe and wanted � and that helps them learn."

Anderson noted, too, that the partnership between kids, parents and the school district is a plus in Vermillion. Bob Bowker, elementary principal, concurred.

"This ranking is a reflection on everybody in the community," he said. "It shows everyone cares about the education of our children. It shows Vermillion's commitment to excellence. We should all be proud of this recognition."

When Doug Tuetken, Vermillion High School principal, heard the news about Vermillion's ranking, he wasn't surprised � for two reasons.

"One, because of the community we live in and the importance they put on education," he said. "And two, because of the quality of staff we have, from instructors to administration, support staff, clerical and custodial."

This is Tuetken's fifth year in Vermillion. He chose to continue his career here because of the district's educational quality.

"I've experienced other schools, the last one was in Iowa," he said. "The educational support here from USD and other agencies in town, the proactive attitude for students and the support of parents helped make my decision to move here.

"I rate this district very high," Tuetken continued. "I firmly believe there is no other school in the state that's better."

Offspring magazine provides information on crucial parenting issues.

"We're a new magazine � we just came out for the first time in March," said Allyn Magrino, spokesperson for Offspring, which is published in New York by Hearst Communications and Dow Jones.

According to its website, "Offspring comes from the editors of SmartMoney, the award-winning Wall Street Journal magazine of personal business, and sets out to do for the subject of raising children what SmartMoney has done in the field of investing and personal finance: create a product that is well reported and written ? a magazine for parents who truly believe that, armed with smart information, they can do better."

Offspring magazine is also available via the Internet, at www.offspringmag.com.

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