Toyota money to fund school curriculum audit

NEW ALBANY – As the state demands tougher standards for its public schools, eight Northeast Mississippi districts will receive funding to help them discover and improve their weaknesses.
The first of the money that the Toyota Motor Corp. has promised to school districts in Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties will be used to fund outside experts conducting curriculum management audits in those districts.
“I really think this decision will improve student achievement more than anything I can see,” Lee County Superintendent Mike Scott said. “We’ve all got good hard-working teachers. I think our curriculum audit will show where our strengths and weaknesses are so we can make improvements.”
Toyota has promised a $50 million education endowment for public school districts in the three counties near its Blue Springs plant. The automaker will make its first $5 million payment to that fund in May.
The districts receiving money from the fund are New Albany, Union County, Pontotoc City, Pontotoc County, Tupelo, Lee County, Baldwyn and Nettleton.
They will look at the district’s written curriculum and at what is being taught in the classroom. That will then be compared to what is tested by state assessments and any gaps will be noted.
Auditors will review pacing guides and interventions and visit classrooms, not to evaluate teachers but to see what is being taught. Districts will receive the results by the end of the school year to allow them to make adjustments before next year.
The audits will begin soon. The eight of them will cost a total of about $278,000. More projects could be announced soon, CREATE Foundation president Mike Clayborne said Wednesday at a press conference in New Albany.
The announcement comes as the state awaits word on when Toyota’s Blue Springs facility will open.
Toyota spokeswoman Barbara McDaniel told the Associate Press that she hopes the move will reassure the state that the company is committed to resuming work on the plant at some point in the future.
The audits will be conducted by Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional education association located in Bloomington, Ind. The Tupelo Public School District just completed its own curriculum audit from PDK and will get those results soon. The district will be reimbursed for that audit from these funds.
First-year TPSD Superintendent Randy Shaver also has undergone PDK audits with two school districts he previously worked for in North Carolina. He said the auditors review a list of 53 things that can improve every students’ performance level.
A recommendation to use the Toyota funds for the curriculum audits was made by a six-member Toyota Education Endowment Advisory Committee, set up by The CREATE Foundation.
“This was a good starting place for the eight superintendents,” said James Byers, a member of that committee. “When we go to the next phase, we’ll know where we are.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal