Archive for Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Tonganoxie students find success in many arenas

March 21, 2001

Tonganoxie schools are going strong.

Despite the fact that the Tonganoxie school district faces a continued enrollment decline and has to tighten its budget to make ends meet, the district continues to gear up for the future.

One way is with a curriculum audit the district underwent in February.

While the district awaits final results, Richard Erickson, superintendent, stands to make reparations where needed.

"We want to make sure that our curriculum is aligned with the state and national assessments," Erickson said. "And that we're teaching what they're testing in order to help students be all that they can be to reach their full potential."

Steven Woolf, junior high principal, said he was thrilled this year with his eighth-graders' scores on the Stanford achievement test, given in September.

Eighth-graders, who scored an average percentile of 60.6 overall, made a jump from last year's average percentile score of 51.5 on the test they took as seventh-graders.

"I have never seen a class jump 11.5 percentile points across the board," Woolf said. "This is miraculous."

Woolf noted that ninth-graders also showed improvement over their previous year's scores, coming up two percentile points.

Erickson noted that the high school composite ACT scores, which since 1995 had ranked slightly below the state average, this year rose to 21.6, meeting the state average.

Erickson knows students can do better.

"We're working hard right now to help our students achieve significantly above the state average," Erickson said. "We believe our kids can do that, so that's a real focus for the district."

As far as college scholarships, Erickson said the USD 464 Foundation now has more than $280,000 that has been endowed specifically for scholarships for Tonganoxie High School graduates.

He noted that students achieve other scholarships as well, pointing to a senior's recent success.

"Darren Welch received a letter telling him he's getting $120,000 over five years at Illinois Institute of Technology," Erickson said.

Erickson described the school's athletic program as "well-rounded."

"We've experienced some successes in some of our activities, and we're always focused on trying to improve student athletic performance, as well as academic," Erickson said.

He noted that the soccer team made it into the sub-state finals this year, and the girls basketball team also progressed to sub-state finals.

In addition, six wrestlers qualified for the state wrestling tournament. Each year, the track teams send athletes to state, Erickson said.

And he described the high school's cross country team as "a dynasty."

"They've been successful year after year in conference and state competitions," Erickson said.

Also, he noted, the high school football team experienced a winning season this year.

On the music side, the high school band, which has grown phenomenally from 23 members three years ago to close to 100 now, continues to experience success. The band, directed by Charles Van Middles-worth, excels in competitions and even participated in this year's Cotton Bowl parade.

Gordon Lankenau's vocal music students earned number one ratings at the Kaw Valley League vocal music festival, including five number-one ratings and number-one ratings for the girls quartet and girls ensemble.

And when it comes to debate, it seems Tonganoxie High School can't be beat.

Coached by Steve Harrell for nine years, the debate and forensics teams have risen from the unknown into the ranks of state and national winners.

This year, the team made history by taking first place at state in two-speaker and four-speaker debate.

Also, debate and forensics students have for the fourth year qualified for national competitions and are gearing up for a Memorial Day weekend trip to New York City.

On top of that, Harrell was named debate coach of the year by debate coaches throughout Kansas.

Tonganoxie High School also features trade courses, such as auto mechanics, building trades in which students each year construct and sell a house, family and consumer sciences and agricultural classes.

The district keeps an eye on the early grades as well, establishing a pre-kindergarten program to help preschoolers in need of extra education before they start school, and establishing a Reading Recovery program, in which first-grade readers are brought up their grade level in reading ability.

While the district must now contend with the decline in enrollment, it keeps an eye on future needs.

For instance, the district 10 years ago purchased 80 acres on the southeast edge of town. This ground, currently used for a cross country track, will be available for new construction when the need arises.

Whether an elementary school, middle school or high school will go on the property has yet to be determined. Erickson said it's important to consider not only the needs, but also the wants, of the community.

The district has already polled business leaders and district employees, he said.

In April, the district will send a poll to residents throughout the school district.

"When we collect the data from the survey and compile it, we hope to be able to develop a five-year or long-range strategic plan for the district that will give us some direction as to what to do with the 80 acres," Erickson said.

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