The recent high-profile success of Bluffton High School’s football team has attracted considerable acclaim, but Principal Mark Dievendorf says that the school’s rapid and dramatic academic improvements should be getting attention, too.

Dievendorf, who is completing his third year at the high school, told Bluffton Rotarians that student achievement has increased across the board over the past two years. And although he believes a data-driven improvement plan he implemented in 2010 has spurred many positive changes, he is quick to credit others for those changes.

“I didn’t teach one lesson,” Dievendorf said. “I didn’t take one test. Our staff and our students have done this.”

Bluffton High has:

· Improved its rating on state-mandated Report Cards from Average to Excellent in just two years.

· Significantly increased students’ state high school exit exam and end-of-course test scores.

· Significantly increased students’ scores on Advanced Placement exams that award students college credits for advanced high school coursework.

· Earned a state 2012-13 Palmetto Gold Award for Academic Performance.

· Earned a South Carolina Department of Education Magna Cum Laude Award for Excellent Performance and Rapid Improvement on the ACT college entrance exam.

· Earned a South Carolina Department of Education Magna Cum Laude Award for Excellent Performance and Rapid Improvement on the SAT college entrance exam.

· Received national recognition by the Washington Post’s High School Challenge Program as one of “America’s Best High Schools,” placing Bluffton High in the top 3 percent of high schools nationally.

· Doubled participation in student activities in the past two and a half years.

Bluffton High’s plan, which Dievendorf said is currently in the third of five phases, relies heavily on the use of data to drive decision-making.

“When I started out in education a long time ago, I wasn’t a data geek,” Dievendorf said. “But I certainly have become one. Any plan you put forth needs to be measured so you can eliminate the strategies that aren’t working and emphasize the ones that are working. The ultimate goal is preparing our kids for life after high school.”

A key component of the plan is an intense focus on writing, Dievendorf said. “And not just in English classes but in all classes. Our students learn how to take a position and support it with solid writing skills.”

Dievendorf said that while Bluffton High’s academic improvements in the last two years are encouraging, there’s no sense of complacency on his team.

“Are we done? No. Do we still have some hills to climb and students who still need to be served? Absolutely. But our focus is on long-term and sustainable improvement.”

In addition to his work in education, Dievendorf is an accomplished trombone player who has recorded and performed with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations.

Before coming to Bluffton, “Mr. D” taught band, orchestra and choir in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area and was principal for 18 years at nationally recognized Jenison High School in Jenison, Michigan. He has been married to his wife Mary for 33 years and has three daughters: Kelly, Lindsay, & Katie.