Today we began the third installment of the Daily Journal’s year-long State of Our Schools series. The entire series can be found here.
During my reporting for this week’s series, I spoke with former State Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham, who now leads the Principal Corps program based at the University of Mississippi.
Much information from those interviews is included in our package. But Burnham also raised an interesting point about school culture that did not fit into those stories. Perhaps Mississippi is too nice, to its own detriment.
Burnham, who has worked as a school district superintendent in both Mississippi and North Carolina, said he noticed a difference in school culture between the two states.
When he first went to North Carolina after his first tenure as Mississippi’s State Superintendent, Burnham said he noticed there, “a deep rooted belief (in classrooms) that I’m going to teach a child to read.”
“This child is not going to go through my classroom and not learn how to read,” he said. “They will continually recycle that child back into extended day, they’ll recycle that child into extended year and so they’re constantly doing what it takes so that child is keeping up with other children.
“It doesn’t mean that every child that goes through school in North Carolina is going to read, but a much greater percentage of the children who go through the schools there will be readers.”
I asked him if it is part of a culture up there.
“Absolutely,” Burnham said. “It is a culture among the teachers, it is part of a culture of the school community and it is part of the culture of the greater community.
“The one thing you realize very quickly when you go to work as an administrator in North Carolina, if you don’t get it done, they are going to send you on down the road, there is not a great deal of hesitation, particularly at the superintendent’s level to move people along if progress is not made.”
So, I asked the obvious follow-up question. Does he not see that same emphasis in Mississippi?
“Not as much emphasis on that,” he said. “We are much more, and I think it goes back to who we are as a people. We are much nicer and much more gracious professionally than my experience was there. They are very nice and very gracious, but if the job is not getting done there is not going to be a great deal of acceptance of you staying.”
So what do you think? Is Mississippi too nice? Will it take a greater sense or urgency for the state to improve its literacy levels?