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ST. JOSEPH — Excelling is the expectation in the St. Joseph Community School District.

So last week's news — that St. Joseph Middle School received one of just six "exemplary" designations in the area on its state report card — was no surprise to staff and students.

The rating, from the Illinois State Board of Education, means the school performed in the top 10 percent statewide, with no underperforming student groups. Joining St. Joseph Middle School at the head of the class: Monticello High School and White Heath Elementary, Prairieview-Ogden Junior High, Champaign's Carrie Busey Elementary and Bismarck-Henning Elementary.

Mike Sennert, the St. Joseph district's curriculum coordinator, believes the honor was a result of teachers embracing Common Core standards and everyone at the school trying hard to do their best on every task, every day.

Teachers "have used the updated curriculum to expand the students' thinking and learning," Sennert said. "The teachers do supplement with materials that help to engage students in their learning but nothing specifically for the test."

Sennert said the district places a premium on getting the right tools in the hands of teachers so they can take the students as far as possible.

The district doesn't do anything special in the classroom to prepare for testing but does use online assessments for progress monitoring and benchmarking.

"I think that helps that the students feel comfortable taking the PARCC assessment and knowing what the expectations are for answering the questions," Sennert said.

The district scored particularly high on the math portion of the test, with 52 percent of students meeting or exceeding expectations. Sennert credits the adoption three years ago of a new math series for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

"I feel that increased the rigor and methods used in the programs truly helped the students understand the concepts," he said. "So much has changed with the standards, and adopting updated curriculum that is aligned is a must."

Sennert said teachers and students are not the only ones who deserve credit for the district's academic success.

"The parents play a huge role in our success by having high expectations for their children and pushing them to do their best in their school work," he said. "Without the strong parent support, our results wouldn't be nearly as high."