Leopold graded best out of area districts for second consecutive year

Sunday, January 14, 2007
Leopold first-grade teacher Laura Jansen helped Victor Vandeven, 6, with a grammar exercise Friday. Jansen, a Leopold alumna now teaching in her first year, works with several of her former instructors. (Kit Doyle)

LEOPOLD, Mo. -- Even as a first-year teacher in the tiny Leopold School District, Laura Jansen has no trouble identifying with her first-grade students.

"I grew up here. I know the parents of almost all of the kids in my class," she said while taking a break from teaching the children how to write proper sentences on a large piece of paper on an easel in a corner of her classroom. Some of Jansen's fellow teachers taught her when she was a student in the district.

Teachers and administrators in the rural Bollinger County school district say that closeness is one of the reasons the school does well.

Leopold, with an enrollment of 206 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, ranked highest among 13 area school districts in a Southeast Missourian analysis of the 2006 annual school report cards. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the data last month.

This marks the second consecutive year that the rural Bollinger County school district has graded the best in the newspaper's annual analysis. Leopold ranked first in a comparison of the 2005 school report cards of those same school districts, which included Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Scott City.

Leopold High School students changed classes under the watch of a stuffed school mascot, the wildcat. For the second consecutive year, Leopold scored highest in the Southeast Missourian's review of area districts' performances on the annual state report cards.

The report cards for 2006 contain more than 20 indicators designed to give parents and the public a way to gauge how their districts are faring in educating students. The indicators include attendance and high school graduation rates, student/teacher ratios and state test scores.

'Like a big family'

Leopold is the smallest of the area school districts compared by the Southeast Missourian. Teachers and Leopold superintendent Derek Urhahn say the district's smallness is one of its strengths.

"Being so small, it is pretty close-knit," Urhahn said. Everyone knows everybody -- high school seniors know the kindergarten students, he said.

"It's like a big family," said sophomore Janice Bueter, 15.

In the elementary school, Jansen is the only first-grade teacher and has 15 students in her classroom. Jansen said some of her co-workers view that as a large class.

The district overall has a classroom ratio of one teacher to every 14 students, the best ratio among all the districts studied.

Statewide, the average is one classroom teacher for every 18 students.

High school math teacher Carlton Thoma said the small class size at Leopold allows teachers to provide more one-on-one instruction.

Students also help each other learn, he said. "We've got peer teaching. That is a big deal in my classes," Thoma said.

He said the willingness of students to help each other also is apparent at his morning math tutoring sessions. "I see older students helping younger students," he said.

Discipline problems are few, he said. "We have a good teaching and learning atmosphere," said Thoma, who has taught at the school for more than two decades.

Jenny Nenninger has taught in the Leopold School District for 31 years. Like Thoma, she points to the small class sizes as one of the keys to students' academic success.

"There's no substitute for personal attention," said Nenninger, who teaches computer classes, personal finance and health at the high school.

Parent involvement is a key factor in the success of the school district, Urhahn and teachers said. At parent-teacher conferences last fall, 100 percent of the parents of elementary students attended. The participation rate was about 95 percent among parents of high school students, Urhahn said.

That's a high rate of participation, showing the parents' involvement in the education of their children, Urhahn said.

No one can argue with the district's academic success. In Missouri Assessment Program tests, 58.4 percent of Leopold students -- averaged for all the tested grades in the school district combined -- scored as proficient or advanced in communication arts. In math, 65 percent of the students made the grade. Leopold students did significantly better than their counterparts in the other area school districts.

Seven out of 12

In all, Leopold ranked first in seven of a dozen categories analyzed by the newspaper and tied for first in another.

Among the area school districts, it had the highest attendance rate at 97.6 percent and the highest graduation rate at 100 percent.

Leopold also ranked first in student-teacher ratio, first in average years of experience of its professional staff and first in ACT scores with an average of 23.8.

The district had no major suspensions of students in the 2005-2006 school year. That distinction tied it with the Delta and Zalma school districts for the lowest suspension rate.

Bueter believes the district has served students well.

"I think we get a good education here," she said.

Teachers, she said, take a personal interest in the students. "They know us and they know our parents," she said.


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