Grant aims to improve Shannon test scores

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

SHANNON – Shannon Middle School will hire a new principal and undergo significant restructuring as part of a federal grant designed to improve test scores at the low-performing school.
The application for the grant, which could bring $1 million to $1.25 million per year for the next three years, required the school to replace its principal. Ralph Green will finish out the year at the school and will then be reassigned within the district.
The School Improvement grant also requires the district to partner with a consulting firm that also will help it conduct a national search for a new principal.
The Lee County School District will partner with Bailey Education Group, based in Jackson.
Former state interim superintendent John Jordan, who works with Bailey, and Lee County Middle School Curriculum Coordinator Kathy Mask will lead the search. An interview committee also will include community leaders, parents and teachers.
Lee County Superintendent Mike Scott said that local candidates also will be considered and that the goal is to have the new principal in place by early May.
“The most important thing we’re looking for is a principal who has turned a school around in the past,” Scott said.
Scott also said that the change in leadership at the school was not a reflection on Green. Since this is Green’s first year at the school, the tests on which the school is being evaluated were not taken under his watch.
“We’re not pointing the finger at Ralph Green,” Scott said. “He has only been here for a year.”
Green said that he was willing to move if it helped the district get the grant.
“I’ll do what I have to do for the district, and I’m willing to do whatever is best for the children,” Green said. “As an educator, my main thing is that the children come first.
“I know I’m not responsible for those past test scores. I just took over the principal job, and I’m being moved before my first year is even out and before we’ve even gotten my first test scores back.”
Shannon Middle School has about 200 students in grades 7 and 8. The district plans to add sixth grade next year.
This is its second year as a separate school. Previously the two grades were housed at Shannon High School.
The school was eligible to apply for the grant because its scores were in the bottom 5 percent of the state on the Mississippi Curriculum Test, Second Edition. Shannon Middle School was deemed “At Risk of Failing” in the state accountability standards released in November. That was the second-lowest of the seven accountability categories.
The School Improvement grant is new and is part of an initiative by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to use competitive grants to improve low-performing schools.
“It presents a marvelous opportunity to really see an increase in student achievement,” Mask said of the district’s decision to apply for the grant.
The grant is part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and it will be administered by state departments of education. Lee County Schools will learn in June whether their bid is successful. More than 100 schools in the state are eligible to apply for the grant.
As part of the grant process, the district must restructure Shannon Middle School based upon an assessment of the school’s needs. The new principal will be given autonomy to hire and fire staff.
“It won’t look like any other middle school,” said Becky Hendrix, Lee County School’s testing coordinator.
Changes could include a different type of schedule, more instructional time, the possibility of an extended school year or different strategies being used by teachers. Teachers will receive extensive professional development and there could be performance-based bonuses for teachers, if the district receives the grant.
Scott said that teachers from other schools in the district would be able to apply for spots at Shannon Middle School.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.