Top of the class: Dollar Bay recognized for academics

DOLLAR BAY – For Jan Quarless, the first place ranking of Dollar Bay-Tamarack City Area Schools in a recent academic competition among almost 770 high schools in Michigan is an indicator of the quality of the administration, board of education, faculty, staff and students in the district.

For the second consecutive year, DB-TC placed first in its category in the Bridge Magazine Academic State Champs competition.

“The board and administration are quite proud of what’s been done,” he said. “It reflects highly on our parents and the students who come to the school.”

Bridge Magazine is a publication of the Center for Michigan. On the Bridge website, it’s stated, “Bridge’s mission is to inform Michigan citizens about their state, amplify their views and explore the challenges of our civic life. Our goal at Bridge is simple: To better inform Michigan’s private citizens so as to encourage a vibrant state in both the private and public sectors.”

The Bridge academic competition ranks schools by population size and income level. Although there may be some issues with fairness in certain ranking systems, Quarless, who is DB-TC superintendent, said adding the population size and income levels as factors can make comparing schools more accurate. It’s been shown that students from low income backgrounds may not perform as well academically because of problems in the home.

“They’re trying to take academic performance and tie it in to that,” he said of poverty.

The DB-TC school district is ranked by the Bridge Magazine as small county and middle income. They placed seventh overall in the state with a score of 120.

Calumet High School placed fourth in the same category as DB-TC (19th overall with a score of 113), and Houghton High School placed first in higher income, smaller county population category (18th overall with a score of 114).

This is the fifth year for the Bridge Academic State Championship, and this year, only ACT results were used in the rankings. Previously Michigan Education Assessment Program results were used, but that was replaced last school year with the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress. For a test to be considered a valid indicator of a school’s academic quality, the creators of the Bridge Magazine want the test to be used at least three years.

Quarless said former DB-TC K-12 Principal William Rivest was a very important part of the academic achievements of the district. Rivest instigated a change from semesters to trimesters, which was important for improving student success.

“For our population, trimesters have helped,” he said.

Current K-12 Principal Christina Norland is continuing what Rivest started, Quarless said.

One of the DBHS teachers Quarless cites as making the district excellent is math and science teacher Matt Zimmer, who teaches the school’s robotics program, which has worked with Michigan Technological University and Isle Royale National Park.

Zimmer said the district is doing so well because everyone involved with the school is working together.

“Collectively, we kind of came together and said what we expect our students to achieve,” he said.

Because the district population is so small (347 total, and 166 in grades 7-12, which is the high school), Zimmer said teachers are able to work with students on an individual basis to determine what they need to do as well as they can.

Students are taught how to learn to the best of their abilities, Zimmer said.

“That’s a really big part,” he sad.

Zimmer said not all students will or even should go onto university after graduating, but even those who don’t will be ready to move on.

“Maybe it won’t be college ready, but it will be career ready,” he said.

Houghton High School Principal Patrick Aldrich said the school’s first place ranking is an indicator of the efforts of the faculty, students and community to provide a quality education for students.

“We’re excited and humbled by the whole thing,” he said.

Aldrich said the academic success of HHS students is due in part to changes made in the district, which the teachers have readily accepted.

“We’re supporting our kids with district-wide intervention,” he said. “We’ve worked hard, specifically on reading and math throughout the district.”

Education is a constantly changing process, and Aldrich said the Houghton-Portage Township School District is working to keep up with those changes.

“We’re continuing to improve,” he said.

Christopher Davidson, Calumet High School principal, said the high school placed so high in the Bridge competition because of the attention students are given from elementary through high school.

“It’s a combination of so many factors,” he said.

There is also good support from the community to have students do well, Davidson said.

“You put all that together, to me, that’s kind of the recipe for why we’re doing as well as we’re doing,” he said.