SOUTHBRIDGE — Southbridge Superintendent/Receiver Dr. Jeffrey Villar presented to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week about positive strides that the district has taken during the last few years while in receivership.
At the meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 20, Dr. Villar discussed steps that he and his staff have been implementing across the district to support the success of students, staff and the district as a whole.
He noted to the board that a main goal of theirs is to align the district’s math and English curriculum to state standards. In comparison to 15 similar districts, Southbridge eighth-graders saw the highest growth scores in math on the 2021-22 MCAS test. Dr. Villar hopes to replicate this growth across other grade levels in the coming school years.
“Our student growth performance is starting to show signs of improvement, despite coming out of the pandemic and the massive disruption in education this caused,” Dr. Villar said. “The area that we are most proud of is our eighth-grade math. That is really a light into our future and a trend that shows we’re heading in the right direction.”
Dr. Villar also discussed the importance of social-emotional support services for students. To provide this specialized support, the district has partnered with the University of Connecticut to focus on positive behavior interventions and supports, a technique that is used to improve and promote school safety and positive behavior. Through this partnership, the district was able to add a Social-Emotional Learning Coordinator and collect real data on improvements.
Thanks to these efforts, disciplinary issues at Southbridge Middle School have drastically improved. In 2021, there were 42 out-of-school suspensions issued to 29 students, representing approximately 115 days of lost learning. In 2018, 443 out-of-school suspensions were issued to 146 students, representing a total of 768 lost learning days.
“We still want to lower these numbers, but they are heading in the right direction. We are proud to see that this school has really turned the corner and has become a leader in the district for what we expect of our students and our staff,” Dr. Villar said.
Another positive change is increasing diversity within faculty. Approximately 19% of faculty members are Hispanic, as opposed to only about 8% in the 2017-18 school year. Southbridge is a community with a large population of people of Hispanic heritage.
Additionally, about 90% of Southbridge students are considered high need, which includes students from low-income families, English learners, those that are homeless and those facing other challenges. Dr. Villar noted that although students with high needs may require additional support, he firmly believes that all students are capable of learning at high levels.
Dr. Villar also noted to the board that he recognizes the challenges that the district faces, but is firmly committed to continuing to work toward the success of the district in its entirety.