MDE expands high school pilot program

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi is expanding a program designed to dramatically change high schools in order to better prepare students for college and the workforce.
Five districts have received $50,000 grants to join the Excellence for All program, the Mississippi Department of Education announced last week. Columbus, Greenwood, Madison, Columbia and Lamar school districts will join Corinth, Clarksdale and Gulfport, which piloted the program during the 2011-12 school year.
In the program, students take more rigorous classes with an internationally benchmarked curriculum that differs from the objectives used by Mississippi’s other high schools. Sophomores who pass board examinations can either graduate early or can enroll in the upper division of the program with intense college-prep courses.
“It is all about our students having the fundamental skills they need to exit high school college and career ready,” said Kim Benton, interim deputy state superintendent, who added that the MDE wants to continue to expand the program in the coming years. “It is really redesigning the high school experience with multiple exit points for students.”
The Amory School District was among the finalists to receive a grant this year. Superintendent Tony Cook said he likes the program and will try to find ways in the future for Amory to participate. He said that costs of training, materials and hiring new personnel are the biggest obstacles.
“It is a totally different curriculum than anything in use in Mississippi,” he said. “It is amazing the depth the students have to go through. It is a great program.”
Tupelo and Lee County also were among 17 Mississippi districts to apply for the recent grants. Both planned to use the funds to expand Advanced Placement options, which the MDE later said was not the intent of this program.
Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden said the district still plans to expand AP offerings but that it does not have plans to participate in the Excellence for All program.
Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said the district also wants to offer more AP courses and expand teacher training for them.
Weeks said he does not know if the district will decide to join the Excellence for All program in the future.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com