Sumner Memorial High School

Student-centered Approach Paying Off at Sumner



Sumner Memorial High School
Sumner Memorial High School’s website used to feature a stark white building. Now there are kids in front, which school administrators say is a metaphor for the school’s new student-centered approach.

SULLIVAN — Though not quite a transformation, many agree real change is happening at Sumner Memorial High School, which not so long ago was ranked one of the lowest achieving schools in the state.

School officials say the metamorphosis is reflected in higher test scores, new classes, higher course completion and graduation rates and fewer disciplinary problems.

Principal Tom Wissink is quick to say many of the changes — such as new class schedules and alternative educational offerings — were already in the works when he took over.

He also said change is just beginning.

“We’re building the snowball,” Wissink said. “Pretty soon it will be rolling down the hill on its own.”

Wissink moved to Maine from Wisconsin to serve as what is referred to under the federal No Child Left Behind Act as a transformational principal.

It was that law that gave the school board the option of replacing Sumner’s principal in order to receive nearly $2 million in federal school improvement funding.

Sumner’s low ranking was largely tied to student scores on the SATs and the school’s graduation rate.

The goal in the last academic year was to have 37 percent of students reach proficiency in math and 36 percent in reading.

Wissink said the goal was exceeded at 39 percent and 46 percent, respectively.

Although Sumner exceeded goals for the SATs, he said the freshmen and sophomores did not meet the hoped for scores on the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) test.

Sumner changed its strategy in preparing students for the SATs by bringing in teacher coach Amy Grant.

She said that in order to be proficient on the SATs, students need to read at a level that would enable them to decipher a health insurance form.

“These teachers were already teaching, but the level demanded before was lower. The SAT upped the ante,” said Grant. “It’s not just about Sumner. If the world shifts and no one gives you the new rules you can’t live up to them.”

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Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]
Jacqueline Weaver

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