The Internet offers numerous sites designed to help parents choose a school for their child. An example is, where visitors may read reviews of schools posted by parents.

“Sue,” a Deer Creek mom, posted this July 2004 review of Prairie Vale Elementary School.

“My child began first grade with no reading ability and ended with a second grade fourth month reading level,” she wrote.

“During a parents only vacation to DC this summer, Pres. Reagan died and our son was able to recount what number President Mr. Reagan was, how old he was and that the current President’s father was his V.P. Incredible.

“... I was a skeptic as a Kindergarten Mom, but now we are amazed and looking toward a great future with this public school education.”

At the Web site, parents also may rate schools in overall quality, principal leadership, teacher quality, extracurricular activities, parent involvement and safety and discipline; Prairie Vale received the highest five-star rating in each category.

Like the other schools in the district, Prairie Vale is a “No Child Left Behind” Blue Ribbon School.

“We are fortunate to have staff members at every level who work hard to provide the services that are so important for our children,” said Superintendent Becky Wilkinson.

Deer Creek’s goal is to provide a quality education for every child by meeting their physical, academic, social and emotional needs, Wilkinson said.

Academics first

Among the factors at the school level contributing to Deer Creek’s academic excellence are the high expectations throughout the school district, said Dick Vrooman, Deer Creek High School principal.

This includes the school board, administrators, the teachers, parents and students, Vrooman said.

“The vast majority of our students want to be prepared for the university level,” he said.

Vrooman said excellent school environments have been built by confronting discipline issues head on. Teachers, parents and students want a safe and an orderly school, he said.

The result is quality instruction, excellent student time on task and a total school attitude that declares academics come first, Vrooman said.

Through the Antler Effect school improvement process, part of the Blue Ribbon School model, Deer Creek schools look at their strengths and weaknesses and set goals.

Deer Creek Elementary Principal Debbie Straughn said her school’s goal is to accelerate every child to the next level, i.e. a child performing at a satisfactory level is boosted to the advanced level.

The school has been a Great Expectations “model school” for four consecutive years. Teachers have implemented the required criteria established by the school-wide development program, Straughn said.

Educators come from across the nation and other countries to emulate what the elementary school is doing, Straughn said.

World view Wednesday

Deer Creek teachers are dedicated to excellence in their classrooms, Vrooman said.

Vertical and horizontal curriculum alignment prevents the district’s courses from falling below its high expectations, he said.

Jan Seely, Deer Creek’s curriculum director said this year, the district has or will implement several new courses and programs at all levels.

They include a boys muscle and fitness class and digital movie-making at the middle school and a piano keyboarding class, a community service/leadership class, exploring personal finance and a specialized reading class at the high school.

Future plans call for expanding core knowledge curriculum at the elementary level, adding fundamental algebra, a freshman prep class for Algebra 1, and Focus-on-Reading, being piloted this year, is a computerized program for middle school students not reading at their grade level.

Principal Toni Jones said the middle school currently is focused on enhancing all aspects of is curriculum through greater use of technology.

“Thanks to our local Community Enrichment Foundation we have a mobile palm pilot writing lab that has students excited and motivated to write,” Jones said.

The middle school also is using a new program called World View Wednesday. Each student has been assigned to a same-sex group of about 15 students and one teacher, Jones said.

Discussions center around issues such as Internet safety, bullying, school-life, curriculum student wishes and age-appropriate topics students find intriguing or frustrating, Jones said.

“The program has been a huge success,” Jones said. “We are focused on the kids in every aspect of our school day.”

(Education reporter Mark Schlachtenhaufen may be reached via e-mail at


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