EDITORIAL: Expect the best

Northeast Mississippi has always prided itself on strong public schools with broad community support. The release today of labels for school districts and individual schools under the state’s rigorous new accountability system includes seven districts in the region among the state’s highest-ranked.
Booneville leads the pack as one of only two Star districts. This is cause for celebration by the entire community. No school system achieves what Booneville has without high expectations, support and involvement from the community as well as stellar efforts from teachers and administrators. They’ve set the bar high for the region and state.
High expectations and support are also the rule in the Pontotoc city, Pontotoc County, New Albany, Oxford, Corinth and Tishomingo County districts – all of which achieved High Performing designations. Those communities will no doubt challenge their schools to maintain and improve upon what that label reflects.
Tupelo and Lee County citizens have high expectations for their schools as well. Tupelo disappointingly is labeled Academic Watch. While Lee County has a higher overall rating of Successful, four of its schools are labeled Academic Watch and two At Risk of Failing. The difference in Lee County’s overall rating was that it met its growth target – the progress made by students from year to year – and Tupelo, which actually had a higher overall achievement level, did not.
The new system places great emphasis on the progress made from year to year. That’s a good thing because it requires schools to focus on all students to raise achievement levels.
Tupelo could have achieved High Performing designation with only slight shifts in actual achievement and year-to-year growth. So the bottom has not fallen out, as the label might suggest. The standards are more exacting.
Nevertheless, Tupelo’s status is unacceptable – to administrators, school board members, parents and the wider community. It will require a focused effort under the leadership of a new superintendent to get student performance where it needs to be, and Tupelo must draw on its long-standing community commitment to excellent public education to make that happen.
Similarly, Lee County must not be satisfied with an overall district rating of Successful, especially when several individual schools are below that level. It must build on the strong progress exhibited in the past year, which shows clearly its capacity for improvement.
The community expectations for both Tupelo and Lee County schools should be that they achieve Star designation, which means competitive with any in the nation. It will take hard work, but it is not out of reach for a city and county that value public education and recognize it as the foundation for community success.

NEMS Daily Journal