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District Receives High Ratings From Niche Website

Parents looking to optimize their children’s educational opportunities have a few options.

Paying for private and charter schools or hiring tutors may appeal to those with plenty of financial resources, while others may be looking for the best possible public school districts. Be that as it may, consulting online resources is a tool for becoming better informed.

The Niche.com website is one such online resource, and those who use it will find some Cheshire schools receiving high marks. In recent rankings provided by Niche, Dodd Middle School was named the 17th best public high school out of 289 considered, while Cheshire High School ranked 25th out of 199 public high schools in Connecticut.

The high school performed well in several areas, with “A” grades in athletics, academics, and college readiness, while receiving “B”s in areas such as food and diversity.

Cheshire school officials are aware of the rankings, says Cheshire Schools Superintendent Dr Jeffrey Solan. “We pay attention to them, but we don’t set targets for them. We are not looking for higher rankings in any way.

That said, the district is always looking for ways to improve student outcomes and offerings.

“We have spoken internally about the food and are seeking feedback from our Food Services Manager. We want students to enjoy and look forward to food service programs,” says Solan, “but our participation in the healthy food program dictates how much salt and sugar certain products may contain.

Healthy Foods is a state program that establishes nutritional guidelines. The state offers a reimbursement rate of 10 cents per meal to schools that meet the goals set by the program – a tax incentive to encourage healthier choices.

The lower rating in this area reveals a major problem with ranking websites, Solan said: just about anyone with a computer can rate a school. A student who wants more bacon cheeseburgers and fewer greens for lunch might give a school an “F” for food, for example. “Anyone can comment on it,” Solan says, making it “not the most valid method” for measuring performance.

Solan says, “We generally rely more on Smarter Balanced Performance metrics or SAT scores to tell us how we are doing. We focus on what we think works best.

This involves a lot of work with the teachers. “We always like to review the teaching standards we use and how effective they are,” Solan said.

He highlights the use of ‘exit tickets’, through which students can contribute after each lesson. This allows teachers in the class to gauge what students understand or don’t understand about a given subject or lesson.

“The teacher collects and analyzes the answers,” he explained. “They can see if there are common misperceptions. They can break down into small groups and help individuals. If everyone has mastered it, they can move on.

As for measuring diversity, it’s not something the school district or the town of Cheshire can do much to control. But, says Solan, whenever possible, “we have actively tried to diversify our teaching staff.”

Through ACES (Area Cooperative Educational Services), the district participates in a program “where, if you have a candidate of color who is a teacher candidate with a college degree who is not necessarily certified, ACES offers training while working closely with the teachers in the school and at the end of the year they can have a certification. It’s an opportunity to identify someone who would make a great teacher,” said explained Solan.

The bottom line for the district, which has been rising in the rankings in recent years, is “doing the right thing,” Solan says, “(and) the rankings will follow.”