Whitewood Elementary named a distinguished school for student performance

Books presented on a bookshelf at Whitewood Elementary School.
Books presented on a bookshelf at Whitewood Elementary School.(KOTA/KEVN)
Updated: Oct. 20, 2022 at 7:00 AM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - The National Elementary and Secondary Education Act distinguished schools list is similar to getting an “A+” on your report card. Only two elementary schools in South Dakota received the honor this year, and one is in the Black Hills, Whitewood Elementary School.

“Every student, every day, every way,” is the motto of Whitewood Elementary School. The school, part of the Meade School District educating around 120 kids, stands out for its math and English testing scores, outperforming the district and state. Whitewood students scored 76% in English and 86% in math. Meade School District students averaged 55% and 48% respectively, while the state came in a little lower at 51% and 43%.

“I don’t think there’s like a magic program or a magic curriculum we’re using. What I do think we do a really good job at is making sure each kid, each student is seen, and they feel they’re valued,” said Brittan Porterfield, Whitewood Elementary School principal.

Making sure each student has at least one person in the school they connect with is a key to success, according to Porterfield.

“Filling kids their basic needs first, some kids you know ‘Did you eat breakfast this morning?’, if not let’s go get you some food. ‘Do you need a hug this morning? You look like you’re having a bad morning, do you want to talk about it?’,” explained Becky Rost, a second-grade teacher at Whitewood Elementary School. “I think just taking care of that first and letting them know they’re safe where they’re at, I care about them, I care about them as a person, I’m just not worried about a test score and how they’re going to perform.”

One parent agrees.

“Maybe 10 seconds that she couldn’t see, somebody out on the playground for recess. Being an adult or a teacher or staff and she kind of got hung up on that. She was a little scared to go back the next day thinking that she was alone and on the playground all by herself; which wasn’t the case by any means. But the teachers recognized it right away and it never happened again,” explained Kylee Johnson, whose child attends Whitewood Elementary School.

Excelling isn’t new to Whitewood Elementary; the school was named a Blue Ribbon School in 2008. Parents, administration, and teachers all attribute their success to the community.

“We in Whitewood as a school and the town of Whitewood we are a community. The parents care, the businesspeople care; they volunteer to help with things or volunteer their services,” said Rost.

Porterfield says students and families have shared their ongoing appreciation for Whitewood Elementary, even after kids have left.

The school will join Lake Preston Elementary School in February, 2023, to be honored at the National Elementary and Secondary Education conference.