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Belle Vernon Area chief paints rosy picture of district

| Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, 12:11 a.m.

Dr. John Wilkinson recently gave teachers in the Belle Vernon Area School District a challenge for the new school year – push 15 students per grade toward proficient on the state assessment tests.

“We have a very good school district now,” the BVA superintendent of schools said during a school board meeting Monday night. “We want to be great.”

Just one day into the new school year, Wilkinson presented an overview of the district's goals for school facility improvements and academic enhancements.

Students in Advanced Placement courses are receiving iPad minis this year, Wilkinson said.

Four Chrome book labs have been opened in the regular classrooms so students do not have to relocate to a computer lab to do work.

Every high school student is receiving a complete set of new textbooks.

Wilkinson also reviewed renovations at the high school. A visual arts lab and broadcast suite were built. The chemistry labs are being renovated and enlarged. A freshman academy wing was designed to help incoming ninth graders make the transition to the high school.

The computer labs received new carpeting and a PAES Lab was created for life skills students, replicating work-like settings.

But the biggest change is in student engagement by the staff, Wilkinson said.

“We want the focus on every student being engaged in each lesson,” Wilkinson said. “I challenged the teachers last year, asking, ‘How do you know the students got it at the end of the day?'”

The district is also upping the ante on assessment scores. The goal is to increase the percentage – already high – of students at proficiency even higher.

For example, pushing third grade reading proficiency from 71 percent to 78 percent, or eightth grade reading from 87 to 93 percent or high school biology from 74 to 81 percent.

Board member John Nusser Jr. credited Wilkinson, saying, “We're hiring the best people to educate our people properly.”

“I've seen more progress academically and with facilities this year than the previous four years I've been on the board,” director Joe Grata added.

Wilkinson said the teachers accepted his challenge.

“There's a sense of pride,” Wilkinson said. “I did not hear one person say they couldn't do it.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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