RIMERSBURG and NEW BETHLEHEM – Niche.com recently released its classification of the best school districts in Pennsylvania for 2018, and Union and Redbank Valley both earned spots on the list, with the website ranking Union School District 222 out of 497 of districts in the state.

At the local level, the Niche report ranked Union School District as the second best school district in Clarion County, behind only Clarion-Limestone School District, which took first. Redbank Valley also earned an honorable mention on the local list which only highlighted seven areas schools, including Clarion Area, North Clarion, Keystone and Forest Area school districts.

“I am pleased with, but not surprised by this recognition from the Niche Report,” Union School District superintendent Jean McCleary said on Monday, noting that in the last six years, Union has also received positive academic recognition from the state Department of Education and U.S. News and World Report. “Union High School has been named a Bronze Award winner for two years according to U.S. News and World Report, and the Department of Education has recognized both elementary schools as Title I Distinguished schools.”

According to the report, Union received an overall “B” Niche grade, earning an A+ in health and safety, A in teachers, B+ in clubs and activities, B- in college prep and a C in diversity, among others.

Niche also ranked Union as top dog in Clarion County when it comes to the best place to teach (104 out of 497 in the state), the district with the best teachers (98th in the state) and the safest school district (30th in the state).

“The teachers, staff, central office staff and administration work extremely hard in our school district, as demonstrated by their levels of commitment and dedication,” McCleary said, adding that 100 percent of the district’s staff are “highly qualified.” “The board of directors and administration foster professional growth and development and have a deep commitment to our students and staff while maintaining fiscal responsibility.”

As one of the top schools in Clarion County, Redbank Valley received an overall “C+” Niche grade, earning an A in health and safety, B+ in resources and facilities, B in teachers, B- in clubs and activities, and Cs in diversity and college prep.

In addition, Redbank was ranked second in safest schools (ranked 132nd in the state) and best places to teach (226th in the state) in Clarion County, and fourth in regard to the best teachers (321st in the state) in the county.

Redbank topped Union in the percentage of students proficient in reading and math — 64 to 60 percent in reading and 37 to 35 percent in math — but Union’s student-to-teacher ratio of 12:1 was slightly lower than Redbank’s 13:1. The national student-to-teacher ratio is 16:1, according to Niche.

Although McCleary explained that Union School District may face challenges in accomplishing its mission to “educate and empower students to become continuous learners in an environment which ensures that each student gains knowledge and skills, self-motivation and related position attitudes necessary to complete equitably with peers locally and globally towards meaningful and productive lives,” the dedication of the teachers, staff, administration, board of directors and community partners lends to the success of the district.

“I have been an administrator with the school district for 12 years and can attest to the passion and commitment our district has for our staff, students, parents and the community,” she said. “Our school district may be small, but we are mighty.”

Redbank Valley School District officials were not available for comment.

According to the website, Niche rankings are “based on rigorous analysis of academic and student life data from the U.S. Department of Education, along with test scores, college data and ratings collected from millions of Niche users...to help families find the right school for them.”

Factors considered for ranking include academic grades based on state assessment proficiency, SAT scores and survey responses on academics from students and parents; teachers’ grades based on teacher salaries and absenteeism, state test results and survey responses from students and parents; and health and safety based on chronic student absenteeism, suspensions/expulsions and survey responses.

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