By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo Schools Superintendent Gearl Loden doesn’t want his school district to throw any Hail Mary passes.
Speaking to Tupelo’s Kiwanis Club on Friday afternoon, Loden used a football analogy to describe the district’s need for steady, gradual improvement.
Instead of a Hail Mary, in which a team throws a desperation pass in hope that someone catches it, the district must strive for first downs. In other words, it must move down the field at a regular pace.
“You don’t take shortcuts,” he said. “You take it one day at a time and try to focus on continual improvement one day at a time.
“We are not focused on big plays. A Hail Mary looks great when someone scores a touchdown, but how many Hail Mary passes fail? People who win championships focus on doing the right things every day.”
The education chief spoke about the district’s goals and talked of gains in test scores, improved discipline and increased communication, among other things.
Loden noted that the district wants to continue to raise its test scores to become among the best in the state. Right now, its scores rank it 43rd out of 150 Mississippi districts, he said.
Graduation rates across the country are the highest they’ve ever been, Loden said, but he also noted they must improve even more. Tupelo’s current four-year graduation rate is 74.6 percent. That data is for the class of 2011, the most recent available.
“We have some work to do with our graduation rates,” Loden said, adding that it will take time to improve those numbers and he needs the community to understand.
Discipline referrals are down 53 percent across the district this year, Loden said, attributing that to teachers engaging students.
Loden also acknowledged the important role the TPSD plays in community development.
“If you move to Tupelo, the first thing you look at is the schools,” he said. “If we don’t have good schools, you’re not going to move here.”
Looking forward, Loden said the district is working to offer more dual enrollment classes, in which high school students earn college credit. It also wants to expand its pre-K program and develop more National Merit Semifinalists.