TPSD tries to increase Merit Scholars

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo Schools have increased their efforts to produce more National Merit Semifinalists.
That distinction is given to seniors who score near the top of the state on the PSAT standardized test taken in the fall of their junior year. It is a prestigious distinction that carries many scholarship opportunities.
Tupelo Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon said at this month’s school board meeting that the district is committed to better prepare students for the PSAT test.
“We want to have well-rounded students in our school district and to provide opportunities inside and outside of the classroom,” Dillon said in a subsequent interview. “We want them to be on a level playing field when they apply for scholarships against students across the state and the nation.”
Last fall, THS provided tutoring to 72 juniors during the four weeks before they took the PSAT. The tutoring was provided by teachers Teresa Ware, April Friar, Amanda Inman and Shelley Miller both before and after school and during the T-period between first and second blocks. It focused on test-taking strategies.
The district also began giving the test to all of its freshman to give it a better idea which students may have an opportunity to later score high enough to become National Merit Semifinalists or Finalists. Most semifinalists also become finalists.
The district also gives the test to all pre-AP English II sophomores and to English III juniors.
THS Principal Jason Harris also has had conversations with Madison Central High School about some of the ways that school prepares students for the PSAT and ideas Tupelo may be able to use.
Madison Central had 21 National Merit Semifinalists this year. Tupelo High School did not have any, after having two last year.
THS has a long history of producing semifinalists and had 11 in one year, but that number has fallen in recent years. The school had one each in 2009 and 2010 and none in the two years before that.
THS Principal Jason Harris said it is very important to produce more National Merit Semifinalists but that it is not a singular focus. “We want to create well-rounded students who are critical thinkers and can function at any level,” Harris said.
Some students are not good test takers, he said, adding that he hopes the tutoring helps with that.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com