WILLIAMSVILLE, NY ( WKBW ) Yes, it's the old, familiar story. The Williamsville Central School District once again occupies first place in Business First's rankings of Western New York's public school systems.
This marks Williamsville's seventh straight year atop the standings -- and its 10th No. 1 finish in the 19 years that Business First has been ranking the region's school districts.
"We're fortunate that we have all the ingredients here -- great kids, a tremendously supportive community, outstanding teachers, and administrators who are experienced and enthusiastic," says Howard Smith, Williamsville's superintendent of schools.
Clarence is on equally familiar ground, holding second place for the seventh consecutive year. Rounding out this year's top five are East Aurora, Alfred-Almond and Amherst.
Business First rated 97 districts in the eight-county region, using four years of test data compiled by the New York State Education Department. Each district was scored on a 100-point scale, reflecting the collective performance of its elementary, middle and high schools. (The 98th district, Wyoming, was not rated because it does not have a high school.)
Full details will be available in Business First's 2010-2011 Guide to Western New York Schools, which hits newsstands today (Friday). Highlights are also available at the newspaper's website: buffalo.bizjournals.com.
Williamsville retained the No. 1 position because of its wide array of academic accomplishments:
• It ranks as Western New York's best district for mathematics, science and social studies, based on Business First's analysis of 2006-2009 test scores from fourth grade through the senior year of high school. And it's nearly as strong in English and foreign languages, trailing only Clarence in that category.
• Sixty-eight percent of last year's graduates from Williamsville's three public high schools earned Regents diplomas with advanced designations. The corresponding figure for the entire region was 40 percent. (A student must pass eight Regents tests to receive an advanced diploma.)
• Williamsville was the only district where more than 60 percent of last year's seniors achieved superior scores on Regents exams in English, math, science and U.S. history.
• Its younger students also performed well. The eighth graders in Williamsville's four public middle schools collectively posted the region's best scores in math and social studies.
Smith concedes that Williamsville benefits from its status as a relatively affluent district, but he says it also faces challenges that are not generally acknowledged.
"Other districts are working just as hard, though some don't have the resources we do -- and that does make a difference," he says. "But we have a pretty diverse population, which surprises people who think of Williamsville in terms of high socioeconomics. Our district has kids who speak 36 different languages, and our teachers have to get them up to speed to take exams in English."
Business First converted Williamsville's raw score to an adjusted rating of 100 points, and then calculated the scores for other districts from that benchmark. Twenty districts -- the largest number ever -- are above 90 points, winning slots on Business First's Honor Roll of outstanding school districts. Eighteen of the 20 also made the Honor Roll a year ago.
Akron returns to the elite list after a five-year absence, and Holland is making its first Honor Roll appearance ever. They rank 15th and 19th, respectively.
Dennis Johnson, who became Holland's superintendent in February, says he has already learned that his constituents have even higher hopes for the future.
"What I've found is very strong community support for the schools here," he says. "Our goal is to make this the district where people want to settle if they're looking for a small Southtowns community with good schools."
Eden is the only 2009 Honor Roll district to drop off the list this year, falling from 16th place a year ago to 22nd this year. Eden's score of 89.87 leaves it just 0.13 points below the Honor Roll threshold. No. 21 Barker is even closer with a score of 89.96.
Fifteen of this year's Honor Roll districts are located in Erie County. The exceptions are Alfred-Almond, Bemus Point, Lewiston-Porter, Wilson and Southwestern. No. 4 Alfred-Almond is not only the highest-rated district in that group, but also the smallest with an enrollment of 653 from kindergarten through 12th grade.
"People can argue about it philosophically, but the fact is that small class size makes a big positive difference," says Richard Nicol, Alfred-Almond's superintendent. "I've seen the impact here over the years."
Sixteen districts have divided up this year's subject awards, which honor the 10 leaders in the four core subjects of English/foreign languages, mathematics, science and social studies. Alfred-Almond, Clarence, East Aurora, Orchard Park and Williamsville have pulled clean sweeps, winning subject awards in all four fields.
This year's standings are remarkably similar to those from a year ago. Just five districts shifted by more than 10 places -- three moving up, two dropping.
The biggest gain was registered by the Letchworth Central School District in Wyoming County. It pushed up 15 places from 56th in 2009 to 41st in 2010, in large part because of continued improvement in its English scores.
Joseph Backer, Letchworth's superintendent, says his district's increased emphasis on literacy is beginning to pay dividends. Each grade from kindergarten through fourth grade at Letchworth Elementary School now has its own reading teacher.
"It all comes back to one question: Can your students read?" says Backer. "If that's the key to their success, then that's where we've got to commit our people and our dollars."
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BUSINESS FIRST'S SCHOOL DISTRICT RANKINGS
(EACH DISTRICT IS FOLLOWED BY ITS COUNTY)
HONOR ROLL DISTRICTS
1. Williamsville (Erie County)
2. Clarence (Erie County)
3. East Aurora (Erie County)
4. Alfred-Almond (Allegany County)
5. Amherst (Erie County)
6. Orchard Park (Erie County)
7. Alden (Erie County)
8. Grand Island (Erie County)
9. Bemus Point (Chautauqua County)
10. Iroquois (Erie County)
11. Lewiston-Porter (Niagara County)
12. Hamburg (Erie County)
13. West Seneca (Erie County)
14. Lancaster (Erie County)
15. Akron (Erie County)
16. Frontier (Erie County)
17. Wilson (Niagara County)
18. Sweet Home (Erie County)
19. Holland (Erie County)
20. Southwestern (Chautauqua County)
21. Barker (Niagara County)
22. Eden (Erie County)
23. Niagara-Wheatfield (Niagara County)
24. Starpoint (Niagara County)
25. Pembroke (Genesee County)
26. Chautauqua Lake (Chautauqua County)
27. Depew (Erie County)
28. LeRoy (Genesee County)
29. Sherman (Chautauqua County)
30. Fredonia (Chautauqua County)
31. Springville-Griffith Institute (Erie County)
32. Attica (Wyoming County)
33. Pavilion (Genesee County)
34. Newfane (Niagara County)
35. Clymer (Chautauqua County)
36. Westfield (Chautauqua County)
37. Allegany-Limestone (Cattaraugus County)
38. Tonawanda (Erie County)
39. Lyndonville (Orleans County)
40. Ellicottville (Cattaraugus County)
41. Letchworth (Wyoming County)
42. West Valley (Cattaraugus County)
43. Batavia (Genesee County)
44. Cheektowaga-Maryvale (Erie County)
45. Alexander (Genesee County)
46. Oakfield-Alabama (Genesee County)
47. Albion (Orleans County)
48. Kenmore-Tonawanda (Erie County)
49. Elba (Genesee County)
50. Royalton-Hartland (Niagara County)
51. North Collins (Erie County)
52. Byron-Bergen (Genesee County)
53. North Tonawanda (Niagara County)
54. Lockport (Niagara County)
55. Portville (Cattaraugus County)
56. Medina (Orleans County)
57. Falconer (Chautauqua County)
58. Cleveland Hill (Erie County)
59. Pine Valley (Chautauqua County)
60. Frewsburg (Chautauqua County)
61. Cuba-Rushford (Allegany County)
62. Evans-Brant (Erie County)
63. Kendall (Orleans County)
64. Yorkshire-Pioneer (Cattaraugus County)
65. Belfast (Allegany County)
66. Randolph (Cattaraugus County)
67. Fillmore (Allegany County)
68. Perry (Wyoming County)
69. Wellsville (Allegany County)
70. Cheektowaga (Erie County)
71. Warsaw (Wyoming County)
72. Silver Creek (Chautauqua County)
73. Bolivar-Richburg (Allegany County)
74. Olean (Cattaraugus County)
75. Cassadaga Valley (Chautauqua County)
76. Andover (Allegany County)
77. Ripley (Chautauqua County)
78. Brocton (Chautauqua County)
79. Franklinville (Cattaraugus County)
80. Panama (Chautauqua County)
81. Cheektowaga-Sloan (Erie County)
82. Whitesville (Allegany County)
83. Gowanda (Cattaraugus County)
84. Jamestown (Chautauqua County)
85. Cattaraugus-Little Valley (Cattaraugus County)
86. Forestville (Chautauqua County)
87. Scio (Allegany County)
88. Hinsdale (Cattaraugus County)
89. Genesee Valley (Allegany County)
90. Holley (Orleans County)
91. Niagara Falls (Niagara County)
92. Salamanca (Cattaraugus County)
93. Friendship (Allegany County)
94. Canaseraga (Allegany County)
95. Dunkirk (Chautauqua County)
96. Lackawanna (Erie County)
97. Buffalo (Erie County)