Booneville ranks at top of state

BOONEVILLE – At the beginning of the school year, Booneville Superintendent Rickey Neaves gathered all of the district’s faculty together and delivered a simple message.
“Testing is not what defines this district,” Neaves said recently, paraphrasing his August speech. “We are not a test-oriented district. We are a teaching- and learning-oriented district. We believe if we teach the kids and they respond, the results are going to come.”
The results did come today when Booneville was named one of two Star districts in Mississippi, along with Pass Christian.
Star is the highest designation in Mississippi’s new accountability model and means the district exceeds the national standards.
“It is a reward to every employee and student in the school system, but also to the community as a whole for how they support the school system and how they allow us to do the things we do,” Neaves said. “I think of it as a community award.
“I can’t think of anything that could happen to a school district that could be more rewarding.”
Booneville High School was one of 34 Star schools in the state, while R.H. Long Middle School and Anderson Elementary School were ranked as High Performing, the second highest category.
The district might not push test scores, but they were impressive nonetheless.
Booneville High School tied for the fifth highest Quality Distribution Index – 227 – of the 799 schools in the state to receive rankings. The district’s QDI of 200 ranked second in the state.
The QDI, one of the criteria used to determine a district’s ranking, is based on students’ state standardized test scores. All three schools met their growth targets for student achievement, the other component of the ranking.
“Our community plays a big role in our school,” Booneville High Principal Terry King said. “They have high expectations for our school and school district to be the best we can be in all areas.”
That includes competitive sports teams and successful band programs.
“If you have high expectations for academics, it spills over into other areas,” King said.
Neaves said that while the district does not overemphasize state tests, what it does emphasize is a motto that academic achievement plus character equals success, no excuses.
“We fully believe that every child can be reached,” Neaves said.
Neaves said the district would have several celebrations to honor its accomplishment as a constant reminder of how much the district appreciates the work of its staff and students.
“It is a great honor,” said Booneville High teacher Brad Jackson, who teaches U.S. History to juniors. “It lets you see the fruits of your labor.
“It takes hard work from the teachers, but we also have great students and a very supportive parent base. The parent base makes a big difference because the parents back you up and make sure the students are performing well.”
The challenge for Booneville will be maintaining its success in a state model that says students must achieve academic growth in order for a school to achieve high honors. But Neves said that if the district continues the things it has been doing, that growth will come.
“We couldn’t ask for a more supportive superintendent and school board,” King said. “They go well beyond to make sure we have what we need to be successful.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal