Many Wiregrass county school systems have performed above average compared to the rest of the state of Alabama, but Dale County Schools took the cake.

Its 93 report card score, up from its 89 grade last year, makes Dale County Alabama’s top-scoring county school system.

“I’m a firm believer that our success is the climate and culture we’ve created,” Superintendent Ben Baker said. “It’s good to have that validation when you get state recognition for high achievement. It’s good to know that hard work pays off.”

Ariton High School, which scored a 95, was the highest-scoring unit school in the state. Unit schools are schools that house students in all grades K-12.

The district improved in many areas in which the score is derived since the 2016-17 school year, the first school year in which school’s performance was determined with letter grades from the Alabama Department of Education to increase accountability and give insight.

Its academic achievement went up eight points from a 69 to a 77, and academic growth increased from a 95 to 100. Dale County’s overall graduation rate went from 85% in the 2015-16 school year to almost 97% in the 2017-18 school year. The indicator to determine “college and career readiness” rose from 80% to nearly 92%.

Chronic absenteeism decreased significantly from 19% to less than 8%.

While rural county schools that have high rates of economically-disadvantaged students typically struggle to compete on the same platform as city schools, Dale County teachers operate with “no excuses,” Baker said.

“They’re working hard and getting it done,” he said. “When a student has a connection and feel love and respect from teachers, administrators, and support staff, bus drivers, lunchroom workers, they feel like they belong. They have pride in their school.”

He said relationships and environment at school are important in student behavior and success.

“Part of that climate and culture is having nice, clean, safe schools that they can take pride in,” Baker said. “We also operate on the belief that schools should have discipline and we have a good code of conduct.”

Baker’s administration has spent more than $11 million on improving existing facilities and renovating others. He pointed out that South Dale Middle School received a $1.2 million upgrade in 2016 and has improved its score by 14 points since then.

Since his election in 2016, Baker said he has worked on improving student success with his superintendent’s advisory committee with representatives from each school who meet with him quarterly. He said he also makes it his mission to visit a school every day.

“We forget it’s all about kids. It’s good to take a step back and listen to their needs and what will make them more successful. You know, it’s important. If you’re going to lead, you have to know what’s going on,” Baker said.

Overall, Dale County Schools were No. 12 of all 138 school systems statewide.

Other schools not previously mentioned all scored at or above a “B” letter grade:

» Dale County High School, 82; 2017-18, 86

» G.W. Long Elementary, 91; 2017-18, 92

» Midland City Elementary School, 90; 2017-18, 81

» Newton School, 92; 2017-18, 91

Other Wiregrass county school systems also performed exceedingly well.

Geneva and Houston County both scored a 90, up from 2018 grades of 82 and 83, respectively. Both scored in the top 20% of all Alabama school districts. Dale, Houston, and Geneva counties were three of 26 state school districts that earned an “A” score.

Rehobeth Elementary School in Houston County boasts the highest-scoring county school in the Wiregrass with a 96, up one point from last year.

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