By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Educators from Northeast Mississippi learned from some of the top-performing schools in the country last week.
At the 20th annual Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Fla., they heard examples from schools that dramatically improved performance, received advice on using new technology and listened to respected experts outline the national educational environment.
The Toyota Education Enhancement Endowment paid for three educators from each of the eight school districts in Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties to attend, and some of those districts paid to send additional representatives. The $50 million endowment was created by Toyota to enhance education in the three counties that worked together to lure the automaker to Mississippi.
“It was a powerful combination of tangible things people are doing at different schools to improve student achievement as well as an informed national view of what is happening in education,” said Mike Clayborne, president of the CREATE Foundation, which is administering the endowment.
The renowned conference featured more than 100 sessions, including presentations by 21 schools chosen by the International Center for Leadership in Education as being models for improving student performance. Other sessions featured experts explaining various topics such as implementing new Common Core national curriculum standards, leadership lessons, adding rigor and using the arts.
About 6,600 individuals from every state in the United States were in attendance over the four-day event.
“When you go there, you see that the things we are trying to do are not isolated to Northeast Mississippi,” said Tupelo High School Principal Jason Harris.
Harris and Pontotoc High School Principal Eddie Moore focused on getting as much information as they could about the Common Core, which will dramatically change what Mississippi teaches over the next few years. Meanwhile, Shannon Elementary Principal Ida Brand heard much about collaboration.
“We want to make sure we are always communicating and going outside of the school to get ideas,” she said.
Charles Garrett said several sessions featured ways to use technology and smartphone applications to individualize instruction.
“The conference valued innovation and creative thinking,” said Garrett, who will lead the Wellspring Center for Professional Futures, which also will be funded by the education endowment. “I thought it really indicated that building great schools is something that happens from within. Washington doesn’t do it and Jackson doesn’t do it. It has to come from those principals and teachers and students inside the school.”