CHRIS KIEFFER: Curriculum audits difficult but important for student achievement

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Last Wednesday was a trying day for the Tupelo Public School District. It was also an important one.
The district hasn’t shied away from its stated goal of being one of the top school districts in the nation. While that’s a difficult concept to precisely define, it entails looking at shortcomings and seeking ways to improve them – to find what is holding you back from becoming elite and fix it. It means bringing your pimples into the daylight.
That’s what the district did last Wednesday when it listened to the results of an extensive curriculum audit performed by an education company that had studied the district since July.
The audit is designed to look at a district’s flaws, not its strengths. The primary focus is on gaps in what is being taught.
It wasn’t easy for principals, central office staff, teachers or school board members to sit and listen as auditor Eve Proffitt told them they needed to do a better job of closing their achievement gap, make classes more demanding and improve the use of technology. Proffitt recognized their humility, as well as their opportunity.
“You have taken a brave step as a district,” she said. “If you take these recommendations and make them relevant to your district, you will change your culture and you will start seeing achievement improve. One of your goals is to have Tupelo become an outstanding district and you can do that.”
The work begins. Correcting all of the recommendations in the report will take time, but Shaver and the school board said they would begin immediately. The board granted Shaver’s request in July to commission the audit, knowing it would show work that needed to be done. Shaver said he’d like to have the auditors return in a few years to measure the district’s progress.
“This is not an exercise designed to give ourselves a pat on the back,” school board member John Nail said. “It is intentionally designed to help us figure out what we need to do. This is a real opportunity to pick out the areas we need to work on and to spend a lot of time and energy making ourselves better.”
It is a process that will be repeated throughout Pontotoc, Union and Lee Counties. All eight school districts in those three counties will be audited by the same company, Phi Delta Kappa International. The audits will be funded by an education enhancement fund promised by Toyota when it announced it would build its plant in Blue Springs.
The results won’t be pretty – they’re not designed to be. Teachers, administrators and officials in Lee County, Nettleton, Baldwyn, Union County, New Albany, Pontotoc County and Pontotoc City districts will also have to hear about gaps they’ve overlooked.
They’ll see from Tupelo’s experience that the process will mean hearing difficult truths.
The educators throughout Northeast Mississippi are working hard and doing great things, but it is always helpful to learn ways to become even better.
All of the districts have boldly agreed to be audited. By listening to those results and making a conscious effort to act upon them, they’re doing what’s best for our children.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.