Region's schools make gains

By Chris Kieffer and Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal

Half of Northeast Mississippi’s 32 school districts ranked near the top of Mississippi’s school accreditation rankings, which were released today by the state Department of Education.
Sixteen of the region’s districts were ranked High Performing or “B,” the second highest level in the ratings, which are based on student results on state tests taken during the past school year. Last year, the region had 12 districts ranked in the top two levels, and two years ago, it had 10.
Statewide, 33.6 percent of the 149 districts to receive rankings were in the top two levels.
“When you look at Northeast Mississippi, you are looking at a group of superintendents who work together,” said Pontotoc City Superintendent Karen Tutor. “There is a lot of collaboration and sharing.
“We are all competitive and that doesn’t hurt, but we do a lot of work together and a lot of training together.”
The rankings result from both the Quality of Distribution Index – a number based on student scores on state tests – and whether schools or districts meet their growth target. That measures whether students make as much progress during the year as they were expected to.
Those who meet growth targets are bumped up one level.
Graduation rates were not used with this year’s rankings as they have been in the past. Also, a new state law converts the seven rankings to letter grades, with the three lowest rankings being graded as “F” and the middle ranking being graded as “D.”
Three Mississippi districts earned Star, or “A,” status – Pass Christian, Enterprise and Clinton. Last year, there were four Star districts.
Pontotoc City missed Star ranking by three-hundredths of a point, Tutor said. The district had the fourth highest ranking in the state
“We are excited,” Tutor said. “Student achievement has increased for us, and that is what we’re about.”
The region did have 12 of Mississippi’s 80 Star schools: Kossuth High, Anderson Elementary (Booneville), Booneville High/Middle, Lafayette High, Mooreville High, Saltillo High, New Albany High, Oxford High, DT Cox Elementary (Pontotoc City), Pontotoc Junior High, Marietta Elementary and Belmont.
Last year, the region had eight Star schools and the state had 65. Two years ago, Northeast Mississippi had six Star schools.
The Booneville, Pontotoc and Lee County school districts each had two Star schools.
“We inched closer to our goal of becoming a Star district again,” Booneville Superintendent Todd English said. “We increased two QDI points from last year, which is phenomenal when we’re trying to raise the rigor and also cutting state resources. We are a mid-sized rural district, so we do a good job with the resources we have.”
The accountability results are still pending approval of the state Board of Education, which is expected to approve them later today.
Statewide, schools earning the “A” status increased by 22 percent and the number of “B” schools increased by 17 percent. Conversely, the number of “C” schools decreased by 6 percent. The number of “D” schools fell 6 percent and the number of “F” schools decreased by 23 percent.
“We are pleased to see the improvements that have been made in our schools and districts. It’s a testament to the hard work of the total school community,” Interim State Superintendent Lynn House said.
“We certainly understand as the number of ‘A’ and ‘B’ schools increase, it would be time to look at raising our standards again to ensure that a high level of rigor is maintained.”
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves issued a statement that although some schools and districts made progress, he believes there is much more work to be done.
“I am proud of the improvements made in many of our school districts, but with 66 percent graded at ‘C’ or worse, clearly the Legislature’s work to reform our educational system is only beginning,” Reeves said. “More rigorous accountability standards will better prepare Mississippi students for college or career, and public charter schools will give Mississippi parents a choice in their children’s education. The new transparent grading system gives parents and communities an honest picture of where their district stands. Now, we must continue our efforts to give students and parents the public education system they deserve.”
Two Northeast Mississippi districts – Prentiss County and Tupelo – each improved their rating by two levels, from Academic Watch to High Performing, or “B.”
Luke Ledbetter, Prentiss County’s federal programs director and district test coordinator, credited much of its improvement to the former curriculum coordinator and transportation director, Jason McKinney, who was killed in a four-vehicle accident on Aug. 22.
“I think Jason’s energy and his passion for the students of the district is obviously evident,” Ledbetter said. “He was very innovative and was always coming up with ways to improve instruction.”
In addition to those two, other High Performing districts were Alcorn County, Amory, Booneville, Clay County, Itawamba County, Lafayette County, Monroe County, New Albany, Oxford, Pontotoc City, Pontotoc County, South Tippah, Tishomingo County and Union County.
Oxford Superintendent Brian Harvey credited the community for giving them great resources and students.
“We are proud to be where we are,” he said.
Tishomingo County Curriculum Coordinator Nancy Parker said her district’s ranking results from teachers who are dedicated to students.
“They apply differentiated instruction and are very thorough on student remediation all the way from kindergarten,” she said.
First-year Amory Superintendent Tony Cook said he was proud to step into a High Performing district.
“We are very pleased with the performance,” Cook said. “We are working very hard. There is no ‘good enough.’ We want to be a Star district. Quickly.”
Two Northeast Mississippi districts – Aberdeen and Okolona – were ranked “F.” Both were Low Performing, the fifth of the seven levels.
Corinth was one of three districts in the state that did not receive a ranking because of its participation in the Excellence for All pilot program, which uses a different curriculum than the one the state tests.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com riley.manning@journalinc.com

Northeast Mississippi Star, or “A” Schools
Kossuth High

Anderson Elementary

Booneville High/Middle

Lafayette High

Mooreville High

Saltillo High

New Albany High

Oxford High

DT Cox Elementary

Pontotoc Junior High

Marietta Elementary

Belmont