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Miner Co. mathematicians: Howard district has increased math proficiency by nearly 10 percent in 3 years

Students in Howard High School math teacher Gina Wika's geometry class work on an assignment Monday in Howard. (Matt Gade / Republic)1 / 3
Howard High School math teacher Gina Wika teaches a lesson on Monday in Howard. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 3
Students in Howard High School math teacher Gina Wika's geometry class work on an assignment Monday in Howard. (Matt Gade / Republic)3 / 3

HOWARD — A commitment to learning plus long-tenured teachers has equaled success for the Howard School District's math department.

In the past three years, the Howard district has increased the percentage of students proficient in math by nearly 10 percent, a feat school officials are proud of amid slumping state scores.

In 2017, the state average for students proficient in math was 46.34 percent, while Howard sat at 56.63 percent.

"We're really proud of our students and of our teachers, they've worked hard to make that work," Superintendent Todd Lee said. "In the three years I've been here, those scores have increased each year, which is promising."

But it wasn't long ago the Howard School District was barely topping 50 percent proficiency.

In 2015, Lee's first year as superintendent, the district recorded 51 percent proficiency. Since, the school has taken small, but notable, steps to increase success in math.

First, the district has worked to retain long-tenured employees, with two math teachers each tallying more than 20 years with the Howard school.

Then, during the 2016-2017 school year, math teachers implemented a program in which they all communicate with each other to determine student needs at each level.

"They're making sure there's an alignment from kindergarten through 12th grade. If they're realizing students are really struggling with something, they'll focus on that for a while and so on," Lee said. "They're all so professional about thinking of ways to increase student success."

Core classes, such as math, English and history, are scheduled toward the beginning of the day, in an effort to reduce the number of students missing those classes for school-sanctioned events.

All of the work has been successful, according to Gina Wika, a junior high and high school math teacher in Howard.

Not to be overlooked is the effort elementary teachers put in to ensure students are prepared for high school-level courses, Wika said, creating "building blocks for success."

But maybe the most important is the tenured employees, she said, as she has worked with the district for 21 years, and Alan Wiese has 27 years of experience in Howard. The district's third high school math teacher, Dawn Mentele, has taught at Howard for two years, but worked at the district several years ago before taking a break, Wika said.

"You just have these philosophies that don't change from year to year, and that's a huge part of it," Wika said. "You learn what types of things students are going to struggle with and it's easier to put the time and effort into improving those."

Wiese, who teaches physics, calculus, trigonometry and precalculus, added that the "tight-knit" community is another notable aspect contributing to students' success. Parents push students to be successful, he said, and the students pride themselves in their schoolwork.

There is tutoring available with National Honor Society students, and teachers strive to make the curriculum "real world connected," Wiese said, creating as many hands-on opportunities as possible to keep students engaged.

'Just a snapshot'

Compared to nearby districts and schools similar in enrollment size to Howard, Howard's math scores stand out.

In 2017, Sanborn Central showed 51.58 math proficiency, Woonsocket 42.86 percent, McCook Central 35.36 percent and Freeman 35.71 percent, for example.

And as rewarding as it is to rank among the best, Lee said he doesn't put much stock in state-mandated test results.

"That's just a snapshot of what we do year-round, and we want to make sure our students are doing well and are well-rounded," Lee said. "Doing well on the tests is a bonus, but we really strive to make sure our students are problem solvers and are not just memorizing facts."

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