By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Efforts to restore the luster of the Tupelo Public School District gained momentum with the announcement of the latest school rankings.
Two schools – Lawndale Elementary and Tupelo High – both received an “A” ranking, marking them as being among the best in the state. The school district maintained its “B” ranking but moved much closer to the top grade. Milam Elementary received a “C” grade, and all of the other schools received at least a “B.”
“I’m very pleased with our first year,” said Superintendent Gearl Loden, who began leading the district in June 2012. “I’m very pleased with the results we’ve had.”
The Mississippi Department of Education released district and school rankings on Friday, although the State Board of Education is expected to officially approve them today.
The rankings are based on the results of state tests taken during the 2012-13 school year. They were determined by Quality of Distribution Index – a formula that measures how well students scored on the test – and by whether students made a year’s worth of growth on those tests. Districts and high schools were also evaluated by their graduation rates.
Last fall, Tupelo rose by two grade levels, from “Academic Watch,” the equivalent of a D, to “High Performing” or “B.” This year, it remained a “B” and improved its QDI by 19 points, among the largest gains in the state. The progress places it 12 QDI points away from being an “A,” although the accountability model will be different for next year’s rankings.
“It shows we’ve had phenomenal growth,” Loden said. “It goes to our administrative support and our teachers in the classroom. Our teachers have done a wonderful job, and the students in the classroom have really bought into the system our district has in place.”
Tupelo High School made a 40-point QDI gain to earn its lofty status. Third-year principal Jason Harris said the gains were primarily the result of hard work of the students and teachers. He said the switch to block schedule also helped teachers go more in-depth in their lessons.
“A lot of people never believed this would happen,” Harris said. “I told the teachers they should be proud of themselves. When I got hired, everyone said THS was done and had seen its best days. I thanked all of the teachers who stayed here in 2011. Those teachers have been here for the thick and the thin.”
Lawndale Principal Brock English said the school has worked hard to make continuous improvement, beginning with former principal Terry Harbin.
“First and foremost, I’m so proud of the teachers and students and parents,” English said. “It does take a team effort, and I have the best team I’ve ever been around. It was accomplished through hard work, perseverance and the believe that anything is possible.”
Milam missed being a “B” school by one point. Loden said one more proficient score by one more student would have put it over the top. He said the group of students entering Milam this year have a combined QDI that is eight points away from being an “A.”
“We have a good leadership team and good staff there and they are working hard to make growth and show gains,” he said.
All of Tupelo’s schools improved their QDI and all of them made their growth targets. Loden said he was proud that all of the third- to fifth-grade schools were within seven points of being an “A” and were within 11 points of one another. Also, Tupelo Middle improved 15 points to a 187 QDI.