CHRIS KIEFFER: Lee County Schools have much work ahead, but rewards will be great

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

The Lee County School District showed impressive transparency last week when it made public the results of its recent curriculum audit.
The audit, conducted by a team of five individuals from Phi Delta Kappa International, is designed to show a district’s weaknesses, not its strengths. The idea is that districts can’t improve without a clear idea of the areas that need improvement.
Lead auditor John Murdoch was in town last week to explain the audit’s findings to Lee County Schools officials, and the district made him available for three meetings with the public.
It took courage to willingly have faults exposed in front of district stakeholders. But it also showed the district’s willingness to expand its efforts to better educate all students.
Superintendent Mike Scott said that work will begin immediately to address the auditor’s recommendations, which include extensively redesigning the district’s curriculum, writing more specific board policies and empowering teachers to teach more in-depth problem-solving skills.
Those efforts will mean an arduous summer for district officials during a time when the public may have thought their routine would slow down with students out of school.
One of the audit’s specific findings addressed how the district could improve its scores on the English II state test. They will need to look at practice tests made available by the state, deconstruct every question and analyze all vocabulary words and required skills. Then they will match it to the grade level where students should learn it and make sure it is being taught there.
It will be a very long and involved process that will involve district officials and many teachers. Similar steps will be taken for other subjects to see any gaps between what is being taught and what the state is measuring on its tests.
Murdoch said every district decision should be guided by policies, and Lee County will need to spend countless hours writing better policies in order to be able to follow that advice.
Scott, a former football coach, said after the audit that he felt as if he had just gotten out of a long coaching meeting and was ready to get out on the field and put the plan in action.
“I think it is one of the more important things that have been done in this district in a long time,” he said.
It could take as many as five years to complete the work recommended by the audit, and Scott indicated that he would like to have Murdoch return to the district to measure its progress.
Despite the effort required, if the district is able to follow the advice of the team of independent education experts, the impact will be profound.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.