Why are so many families moving to Bluffton?
Great climate? The abundance that the May River brings? The history and culture of the town? Because it’s a wonderful place to raise a family? Perhaps it is the available jobs. The most important reason? A great school system for our children!
We sat down for the third year in a row to talk with Dr. Mark Dievendorf, the Principal of Bluffton High School, to get an update on all the achievement that has been made since he first came to town. Dr. D. had a vision, a program and knowledge on how to get there.
“When I arrived in July of 2010 I implemented my Academic Achievement Improvement Plan (AAIP).”
“It is a multi-phased approach to improving student achievement while enhancing the learning environment and the school culture. The AAIP focuses on improving achievement for all students regardless of gender, ethnicity, or demographic group in a student-centered school environment where students are invested, engaged, and valued,” Dr. D. explained.
“Since July of 2010 we have implemented the first four phases of our AAIP. During that time we have experienced dramatic and documented increases in student achievement for all demographic groups while quadrupling student participation in student activities. Student perceptions regarding a variety of school climate and culture issues have also improved tremendously in every area as documented by our yearly Student Climate Survey results data.”
In 2015, BLHS was the largest high school in the county, with 1,410 students, even though they are only 10-12 grades.
The demographics have remained about the same while the percentage of Hispanic students has increased by 6%. Next year with the addition of May River High School, Bluffton High will take on 9-12 grades and will have approximately 1,272 students. Let’s take a look at Dr. D’s report card and see just how his plan is working.
- BLHS is ranked #9 in the state and is in the top 5% nationally according to US News & World Report on “America’s Best High Schools.”
- In “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” annual study by The Washington Post, Bluffton High is ranked #12 in the state and is in the top 5% nationally.
- On the College, Career, Workforce Readiness 2015 ACT Work Key assessment test, Bluffton High juniors received the highest scores in Beaufort County with the most students being tested; 94% of the class passed and they also received the fifth highest scores in the state.
- On the 2015 Advanced Placement Exam, Bluffton High had the highest passing rate (71%) with the highest number of students passing in the district. The pass rates and mean scores exceeded SC, the US and global pass rates for the fourth straight year!
As a result of the 2015 AP Exam achievements, 88 students were named “Advanced Placement Scholars,” the highest number in BLHS history.
- The seniors were #1 in Beaufort County in the State Junior Assessment; they also exceeded the state average.
- The South Carolina Department of Education released ACT scores for last year’s seniors which document that BLHS students exceeded the state and national ACT composite scores while achieving the greatest improvement with the most students tested in the district!
- Since 2011 the ACT writing scores have been dramatically improved for all students, regardless of demographics. Achievement gaps among the broad demographics have diminished and in the case of the gender achievement gap, it has been completely eliminated.
- The seniors’ SAT Assessment improved by 10 points, while the district declined two points, South Carolina declined one point and the National Composite Scores declined by nine points. BLHS has doubled the number of seniors taking the SAT while improving the Composite Score by 92 points.
- Sophomores and juniors take the PSAT throughout the state. BLHS students exceeded the state and national benchmarks in all areas of this test.
- Slightly over 83% of the members of the class of 2015 are attending a post-secondary four-year institution, a two-year community college, or a trade-technical associate degree school.
- The 2016-17 curriculum includes the additional of biomedical science and computer science. The 2017-18 curriculum includes law Eenforcement. Dr. D. is constantly improving the curriculum and offering his students more opportunities.
Now these statistics are all about the three R’s.
For Dr. D., his school vision and program includes creating a culture and climate on campus that motivates all students to learn and become prepared for the future and to show respect to their fellow students, teachers and family—a lifestyle. Keep in mind that a school campus has the same demographics as society: scholars, students preparing for college, students preparing for technical fields, students with learning disabilities, students with English as a second language, homeless children, children with affluent families, low income families, students with physical disabilities, athletes, artists, future teachers, future military, from all colors and all walks of life. Dr. D. understands that each student has a dream, and if they don’t he helps them find one.
One of the most telling studies has taken place each year since 2010. This Student Climate Survey (on the right) speaks volumes about how students felt about school five years ago and how they feel about school, their classmates, teachers and themselves today. One can only think that this survey is more important than how many As and Bs everyone is getting. Study it for a second and you will see why students are doing well in school–they want to go, they want to participate and they are motivated to succeed.
Dr. D’s plan teaches students how to function outside of the classroom and become a member of the school community.
Bluffton High School has over 44 clubs and organizations. Teachers act as advisors in each and every one. This provides a broad spectrum of activities for all of the students. If they don’t like sports, they might like to join the Debate Team. If they don’t like the Math Club, they could participate in the Jazz Club. Try the Robotics and Engineering or Drama Clubs to see if they are to their liking. The various clubs and the school sponsor over 34 events each year, ranging from the Science Fair to the Music Festival.
There are also many “Points of Pride” that students can be proud of where they are going to school.
Recently Bluffton High School hosted a Volunteer Fair as part of Mayor Sulka’s volunteer initiative. A variety of community organizations joined the students during four lunch periods. They distributed materials with regard to their organizations including volunteer opportunities. Over 500 BLHS students “signed-up” to volunteer! Bluffton can only be better for this, as our youth are learning about helping others and participating in community projects. Here are a few more successes:
- The DECA Club (Distributive Education Clubs of America) has approximately 112 members. It competes with DECA Chapters throughout the state at regional and state events and nationally at the Annual International DECA Career Development Conference. BLHS is the 2015 State Champion.
- Bluffton High School Family, Career, Community Leaders of America members won the First Place Gold Medal at the South Carolina State FCCLA Competition and qualified to compete at the National FCCLA Competition.
- Sixty-five Bobcat Personal Finance students competed in the Fall Finance Challenge. Four BLHS Personal Finance students again earned the State Championship in the event!
- The BLHS JROTC Drill Team & Color Guard placed fourth at The Citadel National Drill Team Competition!
- Junior Devin Holausand his teammates won the Gold Medal and the State Championship at the first South Carolina Special Olympics State Kayaking Tournament.
- Bobcats won seven gold, two silver and two bronze medals at the Special Olympics National Tennis Tournament.
- Ebony Gadson won the South Carolina Boys and Girls Club State Youth of the Year.
There are so many more points of pride to mention than space allows.
We see a reduction in teen pregnancy, bullying and drugs on campus, violence, the dropout rate and truancy. Students are learning to help others. They take what they have experienced home and extend it throughout their family and neighborhood.
Bluffton High is a school that has a path, a vision, a mission, and is achieving their goals. It is not easy and it took time. Ask a student. See what they say. Our community is so much better off because of the dedication of Dr. D,, his staff, the teachers working as a team, and the student body.Yes, this year I would say Dr. D. gets another “A”.