Ed chief: Revamp state high schools

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The leader of Mississippi’s public school system would like to see a transformation of the state’s high schools.
“We want high school to have multiple pathways and multiple exit options depending on where students see themselves going with their careers,” Interim State Superintendent Lynn House said during a meeting with the Daily Journal’s editorial board on Monday.
House acknowledged the current high school model is antiquated. A better one, she said, would be more similar to college where students have different courses of study.
She cited Corinth High School’s Excellence for All program, in which 9th- and 10th-grade students take rigorous courses with an internationally benchmarked curriculum. Those who pass a board examination as sophomores can graduate early or advance to the college-prep upper level.
Three Mississippi school districts are currently involved in the program, and House said she would like to see it expanded.
She also noted the Individual Career and Academic Plan every middle school student must now develop with his or her counselor. It forces students to begin considering what careers they are interested in pursuing and what they must do to get there.
“It is a time for students, teachers, counselors and parents to sit around the table together and think about what the end result is going to look like,” House said. “… We want students to start thinking about those options earlier than we ever have done before.”
House also spoke of several other priorities for the Mississippi Department of Education including:
• Improving literacy education
• Helping schools prepare for the new Common Core State Standards, national curriculum guidelines that several states, including Mississippi, have chosen to adopt
• Expanding early-childhood education
• Reducing the number of dropouts
• Working with education schools to improve the preparation of teachers and school leaders
House said the State Board of Education is asking the Legislature to fund a pilot program that will put pre-K classrooms in public schools in high poverty areas.
Speaking about a possible law that could require third-graders to be reading on grade level before advancing to fourth-grade, House said the MDE will do its part to ensure the proper supports and interventions are in place for the students.
“Setting that bar and saying you can’t go forward if you don’t meet that benchmark at the end of third grade is raising the awareness and raising the expectations for everyone,” she said.
“There is a lot of work that will have to be done around that particular idea, but we are certainly prepared to work with our school districts, our public and our legislators to help make that a reality.”
The school chief said she wants to find common ground with the Legislature during what is expected to be a session filled with education-related issues.
“We are trying to work very closely with our legislative leadership, as well as all of the other professional organizations, our superintendents and other school officials,” she said. “We know we are all really after the same thing. We all want our school system to be one that is strong and that is giving every child maximum opportunity to exit school prepared to have a healthy, happy, prosperous future.
“Figuring out a way to think about our differences and diminish them some and categorize our strengths and really use those to catapult us over where we are now, I hope is something we are going to see happen.”
She emphasized she and the state board remained committed to having the Legislature fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com