BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - The elementary school category was once the most volatilecomponent of Business First's annual rankings. No longer.
Amherst's Smallwood Drive School ranks No. 1 again. It leadsWestern New York's elementary schools for the third consecutiveyear -- and the fourth out of five.
"That's really a tribute to the staff at Smallwood and theircommitment to excellence. And to the parents as well," says LauraChabe, superintendent of the Amherst Central School District."We're fortunate to have a community that is so supportive ofeducation."
Full details will be available in Business First's 2009-10 Guideto Western New York Schools, which hits newsstands Friday.Highlights are also available at the newspaper's website:buffalo.bizjournals.com.
The present stability is quite a switch from the 2004-2006period, when three public elementary schools, including Smallwood,took turns at the top of the standings. (Business First producedseparate rankings of public and private schools until 2007, whenthe two lists were merged.)
Smallwood has been remarkably consistent since then. Itsfour-year rating for English language arts is second-best among allWestern New York elementary schools, according to a Business Firstanalysis of 2005-2008 test data. And its math rating also issecond-highest in the eight-county region.
Chabe says the school's successes in English and math areinterrelated, thanks in part to a districtwide policy.
"We have a strong curriculum that is focused on literacy," shesays, "which I think has been instrumental in helping kids besuccessful in all subjects, not just English."
Business First assessed 292 elementary schools across WesternNew York, using four years of test data for fourth graders. Alltest scores came from the New York State Education Department.
The theme of stability extends to second place, which is held byOrchard Park's South Davis Elementary School, just as it was in2008. Rounding out this year's top five are Maple East ElementarySchool (Williamsville), Southern Tier Catholic School (Olean) andCharlotte Avenue Elementary School (Hamburg).
Maple East leads all Western New York elementary schools inmath, based on Business First's four-year analysis. Sixty-sixpercent of its fourth graders achieved superior scores (Level 4) onthe statewide math test in 2008. The regional average was 24percent.
Principal Cathy Mihalic is still learning the ropes at MapleEast. She arrived in January from Hamburg's Armor ElementarySchool, which ranks 19th this year.
"I knew the (Williamsville) district had a long-standingreputation for excellence, and that Maple East was one of thehighest-performing schools,"
she says. "I knew it would be a stimulating atmosphere, andit is. We have a very dedicated staff. They work hard to help ourkids achieve at a higher rate."
Southern Tier Catholic, with 103 students from pre-kindergartenthrough eighth grade, is the smallest school in the upper echelonof the elementary school standings. It's also the fastest riser,soaring from 31st place in
2007 to 15th in 2008, then up to fourth place this year.
All of Southern Tier Catholic's fourth graders demonstratedbasic skills (Level 3 or 4) on both the statewide English and mathtests, a feat equaled by just six other Western New Yorkschools.
"We have smaller classes, obviously, so we can give a good bitof one-on-one help to our kids," says Daniel McCarthy, theprincipal of Southern Tier Catholic. "Our teachers work very hardat that, and it pays off."
Forty-one schools are recipients of subject awards, which aregiven to the top 10 percent of all Western New York elementaryschools in English language arts and mathematics.
Nineteen honorees have scored clean sweeps, taking awards inboth fields.
Included in that group are Smallwood and the other ninemembers of the overall top 10.
Niagara-Wheatfield's Errick Road Elementary School, which ranks23rd, also has a pair of subject awards. Principal Nora O'Bryancredits a personalized approach to student achievement.
"There's no such thing as one size fits all," she says. "If astudent needs extra help, we provide it. If students are workingabove grade level, we find books and materials to push them evenmore."
The Business First rankings don't include private elementaryschools that have opted out of the statewide testing program.Prominent in that group are Elmwood Franklin School and Park Schoolof Buffalo.
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