Region's schools do well in rankings

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Northeast Mississippi placed many of its schools and districts near the top of the state’s school rankings, according to unofficial data released Tuesday by the Mississippi Department of Education.
The MDE’s rankings are based on the results of state tests that students took last spring. That data was approved on Tuesday by the Mississippi Commission on School Accreditation but is still unofficial, pending state board approval. The board is expected to vote on the rankings Friday.
According to the early data, Northeast Mississippi had eight schools earn the ranking of Star, the highest of the seven levels in the state’s accountability model. Statewide, there were four Star districts – Clinton, Enterprise, Pass Christian and Petal – and 65 Star schools.
Although this region did not have any Star districts, 12 of its 32 school districts were ranked High Performing, the second-highest ranking in the model. That also means that more than 37 percent of the school districts in the state that were ranked either Star or High Performing are from Northeast Mississippi.
“I believe it is a testament to the quality of education provided in Northeast Mississippi when out of 28 High Performing districts statewide, 12 come from Northeast Mississippi,” said Amory superintendent Gearl Loden.
Last year, Northeast Mississippi had six Star schools and 10 districts ranked High Performing.
This year, the Star schools were Booneville High School, New Albany High School, Oxford High School, DT Cox Elementary (Pontotoc City), Pontotoc Junior High School, South Pontotoc High School, Belmont School and Tishomingo County High School.
“Our teachers stepped up to the goals we set before them and worked extra hard to get students to the point where they needed to be,” said Lance Evans, principal at New Albany High School.
Rankings are given to both schools and districts. They are based on a school’s Quality of Distribution Index and on whether or not they meet growth targets. The QDI is determined by how students score on the state test. The growth target measures whether each student made the gains they were expected to make. Schools that reach their growth target are bumped up to a higher level.
School districts and high schools are also measured by their graduation rate or high school completion index.
The rankings are, from lowest to highest, Failing, Low Performing, At Risk of Failing, Academic Watch, Successful, High Performing and Star. This is the third year the state has issued rankings under the current model.
One of the impressive stories to emerge from this year’s rankings is that the Monroe County School District, and each of its three schools, were ranked High Performing. That includes Smithville, whose students took all of their state standardized tests except one in the days after an EF-5 tornado devastated their hometown.
Those Smitvhille students took those tests on one of two temporary campuses. There was also stress for other students in the county who were so near the site of the disaster. Hatley students hosted several Smithville students on their campus.
“It was not under ordinary circumstances, for sure,” said Monroe County Superintendent Scott Cantrell. “Students were taking them in different locations and had the stress of not being in the house they had been living in and taking different buses. We were not creatures of habit at that time.
“We are extremely proud of what our kids came through and did for us. We’re excited about this year and will celebrate that for sure.”
Meanwhile, the Pontotoc City and Tishomingo County School Districts had two Star schools.
“I feel like we made great improvements from last year, and I feel like we will make greater improvements for next year,” said Tishomingo County Superintendent Malcolm Kuykendall.
“…We are not where we want to be, but we are real close. I think next year we can be there and have every school in the district be a Star school.”
Pontotoc City would have been a Star district if its 198 QDI were two points higher.
“We are excited,” said Pontotoc Superintendent Karen Tutor. “When you look at our QDI, you can tell our teachers are teaching and our students are learning, which is why we’re here. Learning is our focus, and that is the most important thing.”
In addition to Monroe County, Pontotoc City and Tishomingo County, other High Performing districts in the region included Amory, Booneville, Clay County, Corinth, Itawamba County, New Albany, Oxford, Pontotoc County and Union County.
New Albany Superintendent Charles Garrett said that NAHS’s Star ranking was made even more special by the fact that the school won the Class 4A All Sports award from The Clarion-Ledger last year.
“To have the best athletic program in Class 4A, as well as a Star school, it shows we are an all-around school,” Garrett said.
Amory, which was ranked Academic Watch in 2009, earned High Performing for the second consecutive year and saw each of its three schools also earn a ranking of High Performing.
“Going from Academic Watch to High Performing as a district in one year last year was exciting, but to have every building be High Performing is phenomenal,” said Loden, the Amory superintendent. “It is a testament to the hard work and dedication that our teachers and administrators are putting in every day working with young people. It shows that our students are here every day and are excited about school and that our parents are supportive.”
Seventy two percent of Northeast Mississippi’s districts were ranked at least Successful. Only two districts were ranked Low Performing, the fifth of the seven rankings. Those two were Okolona and Oktibbeha County.
Okolona, which had been ranked Failing the last two years, improved its QDI by 11 points.

Chart with complete score listings for schools around Northeast Mississippi in today’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.

Click video to hear audio