BALDWIN — The smiling face of Stiles Simmons will soon be missed at Baldwin Community Schools as he begins a new chapter in his career. He will begin his new position on July 1 as superintendent of Westwood Community School District, near Detroit.

"It has been an awesome seven years being superintendent at Baldwin Community Schools," Simmons said. "The relationships that I've been fortunate enough to build and the work we were able to do has made the past seven years the most memorable time period of my career."

Simmons reviewed some of the highlights of his work at Baldwin.

"I am most pleased with the improvement in academic achievement as well as the changed perception of the school district," he said. "When I first came on board as superintendent, in 2010-2011, the academic achievement was an abysmal — in fact, according to the state top-to-bottom rankings, Baldwin Elementary School was ranked in the second percentile, which means that it fared worse than 98 percent of all elementary schools in the state of Michigan. We were able to improve our ranking significantly, to the 22nd percentile by 2013-2014."

Another achievement was the improvement of college admission test scores. In 2011, the ACT composite score was 16.6 percent, and in 2015, the last year Michigan Department of Education paid for the ACT, the composite score was 17.7, Simmons added.

Simmons also worked to make sure the graduation rate increased.

"I think the improvement of the graduation rate the past seven years is truly remarkable," he said. "In 2011, the graduation rate for senior high was 55 percent, and in 2016, the graduation rate was 90.9 percent, and reached above the state average for the first time. I attribute the dramatic increase of graduation rates to the balanced calendar, improved data entry process and increased expectations among the staff."

Simmons said Northwest Evaluation Association data indicates the balanced calendar helped with test scores. He explained in the fall of 2014, prior to the balanced calendar, the reading scores for first through third grades were 32.2 percent (representing percent of students at or above the 50th percentile.) In the fall of 2017, NWEA results for first through third grade reading scores increased to 37 percent.

"Because of the balanced calendar, students experienced less summer learning loss," he said. "Now teachers don't have to spend a month and a half reviewing content students learned the previous school year."

Simmons also said school safety has been a priority, and he worked to implement new behavior systems and hold students more accountable. Looking at student behavior data, there has been a significant drop in student discipline referrals since the 2012-2013 school year, he noted, decreasing by 70 percent per 100 students per year in the elementary; 64 percent at the junior high level; and 59 percent at the high school level.

"Another point of pride is the financial health of the school district," he said. "Despite the hiring of additional staff and added programs we have maintained a very healthy fund balance over the past seven years, and I am sure that trend will continue."

While reviewing all the accomplishments of the school district, Simmons said he only played a part, and credited others for helping the district to move forward.

"I don't think that any of our accomplishments would have been possible without the support of the Baldwin Promise Authority, the Baldwin Rotary Club, Michigan State University Extension, Baldwin Family Health Care and the Lake County Community Foundation.

"Additionally, the staff is to be commended fully of their efforts in changing the culture and climate of the school district and their willingness to do what's best for the children. And lastly, without the vision and commitment of the board of education to the families and children of this community, none of this would have been possible.

"I am confident the school district will continue to move in the right direction so long as the commitment to the children remains unchanged."