Valuing Excellence:The Strategic Plan for the Tupelo Public School District

Phase One

Draft for Board Review

Prepared for the Tupelo Public School District by:

Kronley & Associates
Robert A. Kronley
Claire Handley

July 2004

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 1

2. Methodology 2

3. Background: A History of Civic Commitment to Community
and Public Education 3

4. Why a Strategic Plan for the Tupelo Public School District 6

5. Some Additional Themes & Related Findings 8

6. Some Things to Remember 21

7. Suggested Vision Statement 22

8. Suggested Beliefs Statement 23

9. Suggested Mission Statement 24

10. Suggested Goals 25

11. Suggested Principles 26

12. Reaching Our Goals: A Strategic Approach 27

13. Next Steps 38

Appendix A: Advisory Committee

Appendix B: Interviewees, Focus Group & Meeting Participants

Summary of Recommendations

Inspire learning through rigorous curriculum standards, comprehensive and fair assessments, personalized learning, more effective collection and use of data, more strategic use of technology and greater concentration on student experiences in specific grades. (Pages 27 30)

Value and celebrate learning by recognizing students who take and succeed in the most challenging courses, by providing information to families on course offerings, and by employing private incentives to challenging opportunities. (Pages 30 31)

Create safe and secure environments for learning. (Pages 31 32)

Promote team building and bolster communications in and between school buildings and in the central office. (Pages 32 33)

Foster deeper and more collaborative professional learning (Pages 33 34)

Align personnel policies and budgets. (Pages 33, 34)

Pursue a diverse professional staff (Page 34)

Prepare an annual communications plan that features expanded communications techniques and devices, promotes family involvement and insists on effective responses to community questions and concerns. (Page 35)

Encourage greater community engagement through an expanded AEE and through strengthened interaction with other sectors of Tupelo, including the business and faith communities. (Page 36)

Increase positive recognition for TPSD by telling the powerful story of public education in Tupelo, promoting a culture of openness, and increasing outreach in Northeast Mississippi, the state and the nation. (Pages 36 37)

Introduction

Tupelo has a palpable passion for kids. Interviewee

In January 2004, the Tupelo Public School District (TPSD or the district) engaged Kronley & Associates (the Consultants or Consultants) to advise and assist it in developing a strategic plan for the district. This report speaks to the first phase of the planning process, which took place between February and June 2004, and which, pursuant to the agreement between the TPSD and the Consultants, has resulted in the following products that are included in this report:

Findings and themes from the first phase of the process
A suggested vision statement
Suggested beliefs
A suggested mission statement
Suggested governing principles
Suggested goals
A related set of possible strategies for each goal, which arise out of Consultants discussions with a wide range of citizens and familiarity with best and promising educational practices; they require testing with education and community stakeholders in the second and final phase of the process
Recommendations about the final phase of the planning process, where a community-wide process will be utilized to assign priorities to the strategies. This will enable TPSD and the Consultants to develop costs for the preferred strategies and establish ways to measure progress for each.

Methodology

Several discrete but related mechanisms and techniques were utilized in the first phase of the strategic planning process. They include the following:

Data review and analysis. This included demographic, economic, educational data on the Tupelo, Lee County and the state of Mississippi in addition to similar national data. Some local data was supplied by the Community Development Foundation and TPSD. Other data was developed by the Consultant.

Utilization of an advisory committee. An advisory committee of local stakeholders was established, which provided useful information on the community, the schools and the context for change in Tupelo. A list of advisory committee members is found in Appendix A.

Interviews, meetings and focus groups. A series of individual interviews were held with civic leaders, business leaders, educators, and parents. Meetings and focus groups were held with others in the foregoing categories along with, among others, religious leaders, current and retired district administrators, entrepreneurs, principals, and current and retired teachers. The district superintendent, the Board of Education and the advisory committee suggested participants and interviewees. In addition, Consultants received telephone calls from about eight individuals who wanted to add to the perceptions they had provided in an interview or meeting, suggest other participants or ensure that their voices were heard.

Interviews, meetings and focus groups were all conducted pursuant to customized protocols that enabled Consultants to probe perceptions about the context the district operates in, the community, the economy, education (strengths, weaknesses, hopes and desires, major issues and suggested solutions), and ideas about the future. Appendix B provides a list of those who participated in interviews, meetings and focus groups.

Briefing sessions. Interim briefing sessions were held with the Board of Education and the advisory committee.

Background: A History of Civic Commitment to Community and Public Education

There is a powerful history here that affects much of how we think about ourselves and what we do. Focus group participant.

Tupelo is a great place to live; it has the benefits of both a small town and an urban center. Focus group participant.

We had major economic transformations in Tupelo. Our investment in agriculture saved us and then we developed strong manufacturing. Interviewee.

Tupelo stood out in Mississippi and in the South. We kept the schools open and integrated them. Focus group participant.

Public education has always been important here and the community has always supported it. Interviewee.

Tupelo is city of about 35,000 people, located in Lee County in Mississippis northeastern corner. Tupelo may not have seen the profound transformation in size and demographic make-up that some communities, particularly those in the west and southeast, saw between 1970 and 2000, but it, nevertheless, has experienced many changes that are affecting the daily lives of those who live there.

( The population of Tupelo grew from 20,755 in 1970 to 34,211 in 2000, an increase of almost 65 percent.

( During the same period, Tupelos residents became more racially diverse. In 1970, whites comprised 80 percent of residents, blacks made up almost 20 percent and those of Asian, Hispanic or another heritage made up about 0.2 percent. Thirty years later, whites made up about 69 percent, blacks, approximately 28 percent and Asian and Hispanics, combined, comprised just over two percent of the population.

The Tupelo Public School District enrolled almost 8,100 students during the 2003 04 school year. It has ten elementary schools, a middle school and one high school as well as an early childhood education center. TPSD, the third largest employer in Lee County, is the eleventh largest district in Mississippi and the fifth highest paying district in the state.

For those otherwise unfamiliar with it, Tupelos greatest claim to fame may be that it is the birthplace of one of musics greatest legends Elvis Presley. Apart from the Presley legend, they may, at first glance, see little to distinguish Tupelo from other cities across the country of similar size, cities such as Florence, South Carolina, Chester, Pennsylvania or Lake Oswego, Oregon. Yet Tupelo is vastly different from these and other similarly sized cities, and this distinction is based on much more than musical heritage. Tupelo is different because its people have cultivated and sustained for over 60 years an almost unparalleled commitment to a dynamic and inclusive vision of community, one they have achieved through continuing collaboration.

This concept of community and the collaboration that cultivates it is rooted in the hard learnings of the Great Depression and in the vision of George McLean, the publisher of the local newspaper. It grew from his understanding that the boundaries people create to separate themselves from each other in 1940s Tupelo, the in-town businessmen and the out-of-town farmers are in many ways artificial and mask shared dreams and common needs. McLean believed that by working together to expand the areas economy, both the businessmen and the farmers would flourish. At his urging, Tupelos business community provided the seed funding to establish a dairy industry, helping farmers to shift from growing cotton to raising cows. The businessmens investment was repaid by, among other things, increased spending by residents in their stores farmers and other laborers had more money because of the rapidly growing dairy industry and they, in turn, spent more.

While the dairy industry thrived for many years, community leaders and residents recognized that the economy of the 20th century was not static; it continued to evolve and to value different kinds of products and different kinds of skills and knowledge among workers. Just as Tupelo could not remain tied to cotton, it could not remain tied to dairy as its primary industry. It had to change to expand and diversify. It successfully did so Tupelo and Lee County made the shift to a manufacturing economy and are now home to more than 200 furniture factories.

This course of community-wide collaboration is not easy but it has served Tupelo well, sparing it much of the racial tension and dislocation that marked the rest of Mississippi as well as the bleak poverty experienced by so many of the states residents. The public schools remained open and pioneered in integrating the state, a tribute to the community's leadership and to the biracial committees that worked through many of the difficult issues that Tupelo confronted. And, unlike in almost every other county in the state, integration in Lee County did not lead to the creation of private academies to serve white students. Instead, blacks and whites dedicated themselves to building a school system that strove for excellence and inclusiveness, and would not settle for mediocrity or divisiveness.

There are many signs of Tupelos success and the power of committed collaboration. Tupelo and, with it, Lee County have attained a quality of life mostly unmatched in Mississippi. In 2000, the per capita income of Tupelos residents was $22,024; across the state it was $15,853 almost 39 percent lower. In 2003, the unemployment rate in Lee County was 5.8 percent; it was 6.3 percent for Mississippi, reflecting a gap that has persisted for over 30 years. Tupelo has created and nurtured civic institutions that are devoted to increasing community capacity; among them are the Community Development Foundation, the CREATE Foundation and the Association for Excellence in Education.

In both Tupelo and Lee County, adults are more likely to have earned a bachelors degree or higher than in the rest of the state. Across Mississippi, just 16.9 percent of adults had a bachelors degree or higher in 2000; in Lee County, 18.1 percent did and in Tupelo, 26.7 percent did, better even than the national average of 24.4 percent.

There are many other indicators of Tupelos success in creating a school system that strives for excellence. According to the Mississippi Department of Educations 2002-03 report for the Tupelo Public School District:

( Six of Tupelos 12 schools have achieved the states highest level of performance Level 5 Superior Performing.
( Five schools attained the second highest level Level 4 Exemplary.
( The remaining school was designated Level 3 Successful.

In addition, Tupelo High School has been named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education, and its graduation rate surpasses that of the states average as does the enrollment of its students in the ACTs core college curriculum courses. Its teachers are committed to providing high quality instruction 78 have earned certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards and about half have advanced degrees. In addition, the principals of Tupelo Middle School and Tupelo High School won National Educator awards from the Milken Family Foundation.

Without question and by many measures, Tupelo has accomplished much. Its commitment to creating a shared vision of prosperity, which was to be achieved through community collaboration, sustained even in the face of forces that, in most communities, proved to be powerfully divisive, has enabled it to lead its state and serve as an example for other places in the nation.

The context in which communities and their public schools operate is, however, a dynamic one and, in recent years, change in Tupelo and its environs has signaled the need for more change. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the public education system, which in Tupelo, like other communities, is the place where powerful forces outside the schools have a direct and continuing impact on what happens in the system.

Why a Strategic Plan for the Tupelo Public School District

Tupelo is different today it seems that there are more and more newcomers who dont appreciate what was here before; there is more distance between people. Focus group participant

Manufacturing will not be the answer it once was. Interviewee

When I moved here, it was a social faux pas to even consider anything but public education for your children. I am not sure that that is the case today. Meeting participant

The challenge (for the past generation of leadership) was to integrate the schools. What is the new challenge for public education? Interviewee

Its simple our future depends on how well we educate all our kids. Meeting participant

We need a greater sense of urgency about our schools. Focus group participant

Tupelos sense of community, its emphasis on the importance of public education and its relative prosperity distinguish it from many other places but do not shield it from the effects of widespread change. Change in Tupelo has been extensive, infuses all sectors of the community and directly affects the public schools, the students who enroll in them, their families and the city that both esteems and relies on public education. The most salient are those that involve the population, particularly the makeup of the schools, economics and activity in and around the schools themselves.

Residents of Tupelo, especially those whose families have lived there for generations, now comment on the citys size. It is a bigger place, and it continues to grow. For many, growth has brought new opportunity, but it also brings unfamiliarity and a sense of disconnection. As one resident remarked, I regularly see many people who I dont know well or at all. With growth have come different viewpoints and the much talked about Tupelo Way an often-unspoken consensus about how things should be done has to a great extent become many ways with different visions, divergent voices and competing approaches.

As the city has become larger, it has also become more diverse, nowhere more so than in the public schools. When Tupelo confronted the challenge of desegregation, its percentage of black students was about 20 percent. Today, black students in the early grades make up more than 45 percent of the student population. Tupelo schools, moreover, are no longer a study in black and white Hispanic and Asian students are more prominent and the halls of Tupelo High School now resonate with multiple languages.

The economy that this new and more varied student population is being prepared to participate in is also changing. Tupelo is a regional center, and its economic activity is intertwined with that of Northeast Mississippi; the city is no longer isolated. New economic actors, notably a burgeoning health industry, provide new possibilities and demand new skills. At the same time, Tupelo is rapidly approaching another crossroads in its development, one that is no less pivotal than its decision to build a dairy industry. Tupelos economy remains heavily dependent on manufacturing (about 30 percent), which is proving less and less viable in the nation as a whole. Over time, the community must develop a more diversified economy and a more knowledgeable and skilled workforce to serve it.

Every student must leave Tupelos schools with skills valued highly by the marketplace or fully prepared to pursue, without remediation, postsecondary education. The community cannot afford pockets of academic excellence within a pool of mediocrity or complacency, and the standard by which Tupelo must judge itself and its schools is not defined by comparisons to other communities in Mississippi but rather by comparisons to leading communities around the nation and the world. The yardstick is not Jackson, Huntsville or High Point; it is Frankfurt, Dublin, and Seoul.

Residents of Tupelo describe the educational system they require as being better than the best. To be better than the best, the community must define what the best means in a new and complicated educational context that now includes:

New federal standards in the form of the No Child Left Behind Act that emphasizes performance on standardized tests and will impose sanctions on schools and districts that under-perform.
A state economy and budgets that do not support public education at the levels that the states students require to compete.
A diverse student body in Tupelo (academically, economically, racially) with different needs that make different demands on the district.
Relatively new school district leadership that has not yet promulgated a comprehensive plan for the Tupelo schools.
Competition for the Tupelo schools coming in part from suburbanization that is the result of both economics and white flight, in part from the preference on the part of some families, often new to the community, for nonpublic education, and in part from religious beliefs that have resulted in more home schooling.

In the face of these and other changes, Tupelo maintains high expectations for its schools. Meeting these expectations means charting and communicating a clear and compelling course for public education. Strategic planning is a major step on that course.

Some Additional Themes and Related Findings

The foregoing sections described some of the broad contextual issues that face Tupelo and its public schools. It should not be surprising to educators and other observers of public education that many of the issues that TPSD confronts are not of its making. Public schools are greatly affected by broader societal developments; often they are the places where these issues first play out. Questions of demographics, of economics, of housing availability, among others, all have significant impact on the public schools and the ability of any school system to respond effectively to them on its own is constrained.

On the other hand, there are areas that are more within a school districts control. The following discussion speaks to some of the recurring themes that arose in Consultants fact finding, interviews and discussions during the first phase of the strategic planning process. It is important to emphasize that these themes surfaced repeatedly, arising in multiple discussions with multiple individuals. In some cases, the treatment of these themes is augmented with relevant data, in others it speaks to learnings arising out of interviews, discussions and focus groups.

1. In many ways, students in Tupelo are reaching high levels of achievement. There are, however, signs that not all students are succeeding and that some are particularly at-risk for poor outcomes students who are economically disadvantaged, students of color, young students not ready for school and, students who become increasingly disengaged as they move into upper grades.

Student Success in Tupelo

By many measures, Tupelo has built a school system that better supports student learning than most other school districts in Mississippi. TPSD students of all grades consistently outscore their peers across the state on Mississippi's standardized tests. These numbers are and should be a source of pride for TPSD and the Tupelo community. There are, however, groups of students who struggle to succeed in school.

While its poverty rate is relatively low, the Tupelo community and its students are not immune from the difficult effects poverty. Students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds do not reach the same level of academic success that their non-economically disadvantaged peers do.

The achievement gap between low-income students and their middle- and upper-income peers that grows across elementary and middle school continues to expand in their high school years.

In addition there are signs that the number of students living in poverty is rising more and more students are participating in the free & reduced lunch program. From the 2001-02 school year to the 2003-04 year, the percentage of students participating in the program across the district grew from approximately 40 percent to about 46 percent. Several schools saw even greater increases. Approximately 43 percent of Rankin Elementary Schools students participated in 2001 02; about 53 percent did so in 2003-04. Thomas Street Elementary School saw an even larger increase during the same period, a gain of about 14 percentage points.

Students of Color

A similar disparity is evident between minority and majority students. While Tupelos citizens have worked hard over many years to avoid the racial strife that has so often divided so many communities in Mississippi, there are lingering disparities between African-American and white citizens. One critical area in which there has been a persistent disparity is academic achievement. From the early years of elementary school onward, African-American students struggle to match the levels of achievement that their white peers attain. Even more troubling, the gap grows from being relatively small in third grade to significant by eighth.

The disparity in achievement persists through high school. While individual African-American students may reach high levels of achievement, collectively they falter, as do teachers and administrators in determining how best to respond to their needs. This raises difficult questions about how well prepared these students will be to move on to postsecondary education or to compete in a global economy.

In schools and districts in Mississippi and around the country, school readiness is determined by a child's age turning five. Embedded in this practice enrolling children in school after their fifth birthdays is the assumption that a child will have met developmental benchmarks across multiple areas that children should attain before entering kindergarten. These areas include physical well-being and motor development, social and emotional development, language development and cognition and general knowledge. There is widespread agreement among experts, born out by research findings, that children who have reached these benchmarks enter kindergarten ready to learn and ready to succeed and that those who have not reached them fall behind their peers and, too often, remain behind them for years to come. For a child, reaching these benchmarks does not depend, however, on turning five but rather on having rich, varied and developmentally appropriate learning experiences with caring adults. Ensuring that every child has such experiences is the challenge confronting Tupelo today.

Tupelo, like every district in Mississippi, is hampered in its attempts to ensure school readiness by the lack of state funding for pre-kindergarten. While there is growing awareness of the importance of school readiness and of the need for high-quality early learning programs either through pre-kindergarten or in childcare settings, to date the state has not yet moved beyond examining the need for and current availability of such programs.

A recent survey found that, in Lee County, there are four pre-kindergarten programs in public schools, two in parochial schools and eight Head Start programs. In addition, there are 66 licensed childcare centers (private-owned and religious-affiliated) in the county. The existence of these programs does not, however, mean that all of the children in Lee County who would benefit from such a program are able to enroll in one. According to the survey, 3,606 children ages zero to five are participating in programs in the county; 3,010 are not.

TPSD offers, through its Early Childhood Education Center, a pre-kindergarten program. During the 2003-04 school year, 82 children attended the program.

Students Disengaging from School

Of all of Tupelo's students, its youngest are most likely to reach high levels of academic success. As is the case across Mississippi, and indeed across the nation, as students move into upper grades, many begin to struggle academically. While test scores of fifth graders reveal little drop off in reading scores, a decline in math is apparent. By eighth grade, test scores in both math and reading have fallen off precipitously from the high levels of third grade.

This decline in achievement may be connected to the size of the school students attend as they progress through TPSD. In the 2003-04 school year, Tupelo Middle School served 1,253 seventh and eighth graders while Tupelo High School enrolled 2,062 students. These numbers are not unique, particularly for urban school districts. They do, however, surpass the national average for middle and high school's 612 and 753 respectively and their size may merit greater discussion of new ways to ensure that the needs of individual students are effectively addressed.

Across the country, schools of all levels have gotten bigger. This push has come partly in response to ever larger enrollments, the desire for greater efficiencies and economies of scale, and a push for expanded curricula. Yet the benefits that may result from increased school size do not come without a cost. In large schools, teachers may see 150 students every day, their classrooms functioning almost as academic turnstiles, preventing them from getting to know well the majority of their students. Often, only the most gifted students are consistently well-known by their teachers, enabling teachers to, in turn, develop curricula and activities well-attuned to these students interests and needs. Conversely, the anonymity of most students among faculty makes it far more difficult for teachers to identify students who are troubled academically, socially or emotionally and, therefore, making it far more difficult for them to intervene.

2. There are many factors that influence student achievement. Foremost among them is the quality of instruction that students receive and, in turn, the guidance and support that school and district leadership provides to teachers.

Interviews meetings and focus groups provided Consultants with an overview of some of the issues that affect teachers and other educators outside the central office. Discussions with teachers, administrators, families and other stakeholders revealed general satisfaction with the quality of instruction in TPSD, the concern that TPSD has to ensure high-quality teaching and the conditions under which educators work. Among the issues that were raised are the following:

Motivation and morale. Consultants were told that morale and motivation varied significantly from school to school. Some of this may be a function of building leadership (although Consultants also were informed of significant satisfaction with new building leadership).

Recruitment. Overall, the Tupelo schools are highly prized places to work for teachers with families. Single teachers find it more difficult and recruiting younger single teachers to replace the existing force is regarded as problematic Tupelo is considered a family town and single people find themselves at loose ends.

Recognition and authority. Teachers interviewed stated that they thought the community valued teachers and the profession. Consultants heard from community members who questioned whether teacher voices were sufficiently heard by building administrators and central office staff.

Diversity. The make-up of the teaching staff is of significant concern to substantial segments of the black community and other members of the general community. There is some awareness that TPSD has responded to this concern and some watchful waiting about what the outcomes will be.

Professional learning. There is widespread recognition that TPSD invests heavily in professional learning for its staff and this effort is highly valued. Educators and community respondents raised questions about the ongoing alignment of professional learning with evolving standards and with Tupelos specific needs. Other concerns that were raised included the need for ongoing site-based learning, including year-round peer coaching and more educator input into the substance of professional learning.

3. Citizens of Tupelo have high expectations for the public schools.

Interviewees and focus group and meeting participants expressed a demand for high quality public education. They believed that the education that Tupelo provides it students should be highly individualized that each student should receive significant personal attention and that no student fly beneath the radar. In this emphasis on individual treatment, citizens expressed the idea that public education in Tupelo should be as personalized as that in any private school.

Concern for individualized treatment extended to all students. Consultants asked to which kinds of students should the greater portion of limited resources be directed. Answers to this question varied greatly. Some argued that more resources should go to those most at-risk of failure because those are the students who wont get help elsewhere. If we fail them, we will ultimately fail the community. These respondents recognized and were greatly concerned about the family situations of at-risk students (including how ready they are to learn, which is discussed above) and argued for stronger and more systemic connections between the schools and social service providers.

Others stated that the more gifted students should get more support because they are the backbone of our system and their families are crucial for supporting education. An issue for those concerned about high-performing students was whether there are sufficient challenging courses offered by TPSD and if there are qualified teachers to teach them. It is important to note that the need for sufficiently challenging experiences is not limited to the high schools. Time and again, Consultants heard that students in the lower grades, particularly 4-6, were not sufficiently challenged. In part, this may be attributable to the extraordinary, and highly appreciated, effort that TPSD makes in grades K-3.

Other respondents questioned whether the schools and the community at large had nurtured a climate that encouraged learning and high performance. Some of this is a classroom issue, where some families expressed concern that more gifted students were held back by the struggles of those who were having more difficulty. A related issue, however, is the overall value the schools and the community put on learning and how to ensure that the system puts learning first.

Regardless of where respondents thought that the bulk of available resources should go, there was a universal response that TPSD had a powerful obligation to provide a high quality education to all students. Many respondents noted that TPSD did a generally good job of dealing with students on either extreme; a continuing concern was the systems ability to challenge those in the middle. These are the students who may be most in danger of underachieving and these are the students who will make up the greatest part of tomorrows workers and citizens.

Expectations around achievement were similarly high. Consultants heard repeatedly that Tupelos perennial status in leading Mississippi had little significance and was nothing more than a place to begin to build an excellent school system. While there was considerable interest in test scores and how the district ranked on standardized tests, many of those who spoke with the Consultants expressed concern that an overemphasis on standardized tests would, in the long run, negatively affect the overall educational process. They argued for supplementary means of assessment that will enable the community to gauge where its schools stood while providing a more comprehensive overview of student performance.

4. While Tupelo Public Schools are generally seen as safe, secure and nurturing places, citizens want information about safety and security, an understanding that there are evenly enforced norms of behavior and assurance that the district and the community can and will respond to serious incidents.

Discussions with families, educators and civic leaders surfaced concerns about safety and security. Primary among them was a perception that families and the community lacked accurate information about the school environment. Respondents reported rumors about incidents, with little hard information. Yet, as many interviewees suggested, perception is reality, and there is a need to ensure that information about safety and security is communicated accurately, thoroughly and, when necessary, quickly. This communication must come from TPSD.

Disciplinary issues are an issue in any school system. Families and community members expressed concern that discipline is enforced unevenly among students and from school to school. Much of this, again, was asserted without hard data. The perception, however, spread from person to person and, in the absence of systemic outreach efforts from each school and the district as a whole, will only continue to grow. At the same time, some respondents expressed a concern about how prepared the district was to meet a serious emergency in the schools.

Part of the concern about safety and security manifested itself as a communications issue. Beyond this, however, was an expressed desire to ensure that students with recurrent disruptive disciplinary issues had a place to learn that was outside the traditional school environment. Respondents were uncertain whether the alternative school, as currently configured, met that need in a way that would encourage its students to remain in school and learn to the highest level possible.

5. The Tupelo Public Schools are now faced with competition for students from other educational providers; this is unsettling to many in the district.

For years, the public schools were the only place in town to be educated. The school system responded, providing a superior education to those who relied on it. A dynamic was created, wherein citizens communicated to each other the expectation that everyone would attend and support the Tupelo Public Schools. People sent their children to the public schools because they performed well and because it was seen as the appropriate thing to do.

The data make clear that the Tupelo Public Schools are still providing a good education, arguably the best in Northeast Mississippi and in the state. The community expectation that all will choose to be educated in these schools is, however, breaking down. Discussions with the Consultants revealed several reasons for this:

Economics. Housing in Tupelo is significantly more expensive and, for the middle class, more scarce than in the surrounding areas, notably Saltillo, which has become a bedroom community of Tupelo. Recent data show that the cost of a single-family new home in Saltillo is about 30 percent less expensive than in Tupelo. As a result, the elementary schools in Saltillo are becoming more crowded.

Race. Elementary grades in TPSD are now comprised of about 45 percent African American students. While many families, black and white, suggested that one of TPSDs attractions is its diversity because our children have to live a diverse world and they should begin to do this when they are young, other white families told Consultants that some families were uncomfortable with this ratio. Many of this group were concerned about their children going to school with a significant number of low-income black students who may not be as ready to learn. The white population of Saltillo is about 94 percent and, to some extent, this community may serve as a haven for those seeking to flee Tupelo.

Veneration for the private. Tupelo now has a private Christian school that aggressively seeks to expand. Consultants discussions in Tupelo suggest several reasons for this. The first is that newcomers to Tupelo are unfamiliar with, and not informed about, the role that public education plays in the community. Coming from places where private education meant better education, they gravitate to the private school. The second reason is climate and control. Families send their children to school with the children of like-minded families and, as payers of tuition, may feel that they have more say in the policies and practices of the private school. A third reason involves the racial issues discussed above.

Religious conviction. Just as the private Christian school will attract families that wish to educate their children pursuant to certain shared values, so too will home schooling emphasize particular values. A small, but increasing, number of Tupelo families are choosing to educate their children themselves and are relying on both structured and self-organized home schooling to do so.

There are, then, several reasons that a more diverse community is to choosing alternatives to the public schools; it is, at this writing, not possible to assign weights to them. What should be noted is that Consultants were not told that quality was the sole or primary reason for families making choices other than TPSD other reasons relating to conditions in the community or to the climate of the schools were provided.
Whatever the reasons, these choices have been unsettling to many citizens in Tupelo, who wish to ensure that all will favor TPSD. In certain cases, where the issue is race or religious convictions, there may be little that the community can do to bring this about. In other areas, however, there is much that can be done to maintain and expand TPSDs competitive position.

The most important of these is to provide an excellent education. No family should seek another school or school district because it offers a better education for its children than TPSD. The recommendations in this report provide a means to determine what an excellent education is in Tupelo and to pursue it.

6. TPSD must strengthen its internal and external communications efforts to build strong teams, to inform the community about its policies and practices and to build public support for public education.

The issue of communications arose more than any other in Consultants discussions. In TPSD, communications encompasses a number of related issues, which include the following:

The central office. Consultants were repeatedly told TPSD staff work in silos and there are divisions and distrust among them. Some of this occurs following any change in leadership in a large system, but it must be dealt with comprehensively and effectively through team building around the goals that arise out of the strategic plan.

At the same time, some interviewees report lack of effective responses by certain staff members to family and community concerns. This is not widespread, but the nature of these complaints and their tendency to proliferate, call for the creation of customer service protocols by the system.

The instructional staff. Respondents noted some competition among principals and the need for more teamwork among schools. Some of this may involve the need for more formalized mechanisms of communication among schools and between schools, individual educators and the central office.

Provision of information. Consultants perceived a demand on the part of the community for more timely information about school policies and practices, changes in procedures and better use of electronic communication to disseminate information.

Celebration. Some respondents questioned whether TPSD does enough to communicate about its own strengths and to celebrate the successes of its students and staff. This observation is connected to the erosion of the powerful social pressure to support public education. If there is less celebration of educational success and the centrality of public education to community vitality, there will be less community support.

Public engagement and public will. Improving any public system, especially the schools, requires public engagement a feeling by organizations and individuals that they have a major stake in the enterprise and that its success matters greatly to them. While citizens of Tupelo overwhelmingly associate the success of TPSD with the community's future, many may not be sure about how to communicate their hopes and desires for education. More comprehensive outreach is required to engage the community and to build the will to support and invest in change.

7. A new generation of committed leadership is required to promote excellent education in Tupelo.

One of the more compelling aspects of Tupelos history is the commitment that its leadership made to public education. Schools were integrated and newcomers were helped to understand that Tupelo educated its citizens in the public schools, which would do a better job than any place else. Time has passed and a new generation of leaders for public education is needed. Some of this must come from the schools themselves, where the Superintendent should be a visible presence throughout the community.

A good deal of the leadership, though, must come from outside the school system. Some of this may continue to be from the established business community, which has typically supported public education, but increased involvement must come from the health industry, which is playing a greater role in the regional economy. The Association for Excellence in Education (AEE) has provided meaningful community support for public education. It has the opportunity to position itself as a local education fund and go beyond its current grantmaking to develop more extensive and sophisticated means of promoting community backing for public education.

TPSD also has an opportunity to provide leadership beyond the community. Consultants were told that economic imperatives require Tupelo to provide leadership to Northeast Mississippi. This requires pioneering in best educational practices and helping to spread them throughout the region. These activities will also help TPSD earn recognition for excellence beyond Tupelo.

Some Things to Remember

It is about quality for everyone. Focus group participant.

This report marks the end of the first phase of strategic plan development for TPSD. It reflects the findings of a five-month process and provides specific recommendations, arising out of these findings, about vision, beliefs, mission, and operating principles for the public school system. It suggests four broad goals for the system, its schools, its employees, its students and their families and for the community. These goals are connected and must be seen as strategic parts of a coherent whole; success in one area is dependent on success in another.

At the core of this report is a central theme that of excellence. Excellence is what must distinguish TPSD; in the end, excellence in education is what will ensure a vital and thriving community. In recent years, reaching agreement about excellence in education in Tupelo has been an elusive enterprise; Consultants have learned that there are widely varying ideas about what TPSD should embrace and how its resources should be expended. Determining the ingredients of an excellent system requires additional and more extensive community participation. One clear outcome of the planning process has been a powerful recognition that todays Tupelo requires understanding about and consensus on its public schools these cannot be determined by one sector of the community or dictated by a few individuals.

This report consequently makes certain recommendations about strategies under each of its suggested goals. Much of the second phase of the planning process will involve consideration of these strategies. Every one of these recommendations speaks to a documented need in TPSD and each seeks to enable the community to help define and get to excellence. The report also speaks to the next steps that are required to ensure the necessary degree of community input. Once community input has been elicited, some of the recommendations will be presented as priority strategies, with estimated costs and measurements of progress assigned to each.

Suggested Vision Statement

The Tupelo Public School District will be one of the leading school districts in the nation and recognized for excellence. It will achieve this recognition by:

Fostering student achievement at the highest levels possible;
Engaging the highest quality teachers and administrators and actively supporting them in all aspects of their work;
Consistently and creatively involving families in the education of their children; and by
Demonstrating its continuing commitment to the positive development and growth of the Tupelo community.

Suggested Beliefs Statement

The vision and mission of the Tupelo Public School District are guided by a set of core beliefs. We believe that:

Tupelo has been and will continue to be distinguished by its understanding of the critical role that excellent public schools and the education they provide play in the community's quality of life.

The purpose of public education is to develop thoughtful, knowledgeable and inquiring citizens who are prepared to pursue further study or meaningful employment and to participate actively and fully in their communities.

Each student is a unique individual, with his or her own defining qualities, special strengths and specific needs.

Learning starts long before a child enrolls in school and never stops.

An excellent public school system is comprised of superb schools, which require high-quality staff, who are performance driven, motivated to succeed and are themselves life-long learners.

Superb schools require a safe and supportive environment, where students are able to learn and develop to their full potential.

The active and knowledgeable participation of families parents and other caregivers is essential to educational excellence and families are indispensable partners for the Tupelo Public School District.

Schools are not isolated from society and education does not take place in a vacuum; the values, commitment and support of the entire community are critical elements of an excellent public school system.

Suggested Mission Statement

The mission of the Tupelo Public School District is to serve the community by ensuring that each student has access to an excellent education that will inspire continuing learning, support the development of skills that are required for success in a rapidly changing global environment and stimulate robust and effective participation in the community in which he or she lives.

Suggested Goals

Establish an educational climate that inspires each student to learn and perform at the highest level possible, that values and celebrates learning and that is safe and secure.

Support Tupelo Public School District employees in understanding and embracing the districts vision, mission and goals, in devoting themselves to pursuing excellence in education and in performing at the highest levels possible.

Promote community knowledge about, participation in and support for excellent education in Tupelo.

Ensure that the Tupelo Public School District is recognized for providing an excellent education to its students.

Suggested Principles

All that we do in the Tupelo Public School District is closely connected to and measured against a set of guiding principles. The Tupelo Public School District will be:

Student-centered. The needs and interests of students will dominate any decisions that we make or actions that we take.

Open, honest and transparent about our reasons for doing things, our approaches, our successes and our shortcomings.

Respectful and appreciative of ideas, feelings, aspirations and of differences in background, points of view and desires.

Innovative and entrepreneurial in seeking, experimenting with and adapting promising educational ideas and practices that will lead to excellent teaching and learning at the highest level.

Accountable to our students, their families, our community and to each other.

Relentless in our pursuit of excellence

Reaching Our Goals: A Strategic Approach

As discussed above, this report suggests four interrelated goals for the TPSD. What follows are a series of possible strategies, specific to Tupelo, that will enable the community and the district to reach these goals. Each of these will involve agreement among relevant stakeholders, planning and the dedication of sufficient resources. They will also involve specific interim outcome measures.

These strategies should be discussed by the community and all relevant stakeholders. They will then be prioritized by the Consultants in the final strategic plan.

Goal 1. Establish an educational climate that inspires each student to learn and perform at the highest level possible, that values and celebrates learning and that is safe and secure.

An educational climate is central to the success of the education enterprise. Climate is both internal and external.

Inspiring Learning. Consultants recommendations for further discussion involve the following areas: rigorous curriculum standards; comprehensive and fair assessments; personalized learning opportunities; more effective use of data; more strategic use of technology; and deeper concentration on specific grades.

1. Rigorous curriculum standards. TPSD leadership should ensure that curriculum standards are coherent, clear, high, well-understood and well-implemented. It should do so by, among other things, establishing a curriculum standards oversight group comprised of senior administrators, principals and teachers. The group will ensure the effective implementation of curriculum standards by, among other things:

a. surveying principals and teachers to surface content areas in need of greater clarification and/or strengthening as well as providing feedback on challenges implementing the standards.
b. assessing TPSD curriculum standards against Mississippi Department of Education standards, entrance requirements to Mississippi's universities and nationally recognized models of standards such as those developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
c. refining and strengthening, based on review of Mississippi and other standards, TPSD curriculum standards so that they are rigorous, comprehensive and reflect the knowledge and skills that Tupelos youth will need to compete successfully in a knowledge-based and global economy.
developing a comprehensive plan to help principals and teachers effectively implement the curriculum standards. For example, training teachers to facilitate weekly meetings with their grade-level or content colleagues in which they examine student work to determine if they assigned activity is aligned with the relevant standard and if the submitted work attains that standard.
monitoring the implementation of curriculum standards and, as needed, refining efforts to meet emerging needs of teachers.

2. Comprehensive and fair assessments. The No Child Left Behind Act has added to the frenzy around standardized tests. These tests are important and the accountability attached to them is critical in helping to improve achievement for all students. On the other hand, it is generally understood that over-concentration on these tests will ultimately detract from learning. Consequently, TPSD should use more comprehensive and fair assessments, including but not limited to standardized tests, which will be aligned with curriculum standards, to better gauge students progress in mastering new knowledge and skills and more quickly identify areas in which students are struggling. To do so, the district should establish a team of senior district administrators, principals and teachers who will undertake, among other things, the following steps:

working collaboratively with the curriculum standards oversight group to ensure that existing and/or emerging curriculum standards align with Mississippis accountability system.
crafting assessment tools, which are complementary to and deepen the MCT and SATP exams and which can be used across the system. Tools may include exhibitions, in which student work is critiqued by a panel, narratives, which may be prepared by teachers and/or by students, and portfolios, through which student work is compiled and evaluated comprehensively.
generating a plan to provide guidance and support to teachers as they develop classroom assessments/assignments that are aligned with district and state curriculum and achievement goals.

3. Personalized learning opportunities. Tupelo is distinguished by the attention it attempts to pay to each student. Consultants have learned that this is among TPSDs most highly valued attributes. TPSD should continue to emphasize the individual attention it directs to students. The district should continue to reject a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction and learning and, instead, embrace one that responds to the individual needs and circumstances of each student, TPSD should, among other things:

institute the use of individualized learning plans (ILPs). Far more common in private and charter schools than in traditional public schools, ILPs draw on information gleaned through assessments to identify each students instructional needs, set individual goals, establish indicators of progress toward goals, and outline instructional strategies teachers that respond to the students intuitive mode of learning.
incorporate instruction on developing and utilizing ILPs into professional development for teachers.
help school leaders develop a school-based system or mechanism for supporting teachers in using ILPs and monitoring student progress.
increase the number of counselors to ensure that not only are the academic needs of students quickly identified but also their emotional, social and mental needs, particularly the needs of at-risk students.

4. More effective collection and use of data. Data, gleaned from a variety of reliable sources, is central to creating an excellent school system. That system will not be created unless the data is used strategically and appropriately, not least of which involves informing the community about TPSDs progress and needs (see below under Communications). In addition, in a student-centered environment, data informs the creation of ILPs, instructional decisions in both content and pedagogy, identification of areas in which teachers need to strengthen their knowledge and skills, the development of principals as instructional leaders and the prioritization of expenditures at the school and district levels. TPSD leadership should, among other things:

a. review current data collection practices (what is collected and how), analysis and usage of data at the classroom, school and district levels.
b. identify additional data needs both qualitative and quantitative
develop mechanisms for collecting, analyzing and disseminating this data in clear, readily understood formats.
Provide ongoing guidance to school faculty in using data to make instructional decisions.

5. More strategic use of technology. Technology is a tool to enhance learning. It should not be viewed as something that exists outside of or parallel to other instructional activity. At the same time, technology in some places separates the haves and the have-nots. Access to technology has become as important as access to books. TPSD should ensure that:

Access to technology is universal; by making reasonable provision for students without access to computers.
Use of technology is integrated into the entire curriculum in all grades.
Professional development in technology will incorporate lesson planning, materials development, assessment and otherwise ensure that teachers make extensive use of technology as a learning tool.

6. Greater concentration on specific grades. TPSD has made great and widely recognized progress in creating effective learning environments in grades K-3. This has yielded results in student performance and in family involvement. At the same time, similar concentrated attention needs to be directed to other grades, including:

Pre-K: Tupelo should decide on what a child should know and have mastered when she enters school. These expectations should be published and widely disseminated throughout the community. Once the agreed upon standards are promulgated, additional effort and resources should be invested in coordinating with early childhood and social services organizations to promote knowledgeable parent involvement in early learning. TPSD should partner with local media to undertake a public campaign about the value of early learning.
Grades 4-6: Data show the need for more challenging instruction for this cohort of students (this is partly a result of the success TPSD has had in the earlier grades). More emphasis needs to be placed on math instruction and on developing analytical skills, both verbal and numerical. In addition, more effort needs to be given to family involvement; many of those to whom Consultants spoke reported diminished family engagement during these grades.
The Middle School: The district should implement the schools within-a-school approach that it is designing to separate the 7th and 8th grades. In doing so, however, it should make clear what the educational and social goals are being advanced by this separation and how progress will be measured. This should be reported to the students families at the end of the 5th grade. At the same time, the district should consider the establishment of small learning communities at the Middle School.
Tupelo High School: During high school, TPSD has an opportunity to extend its emphasis on individualized learning. It should consider magnet programs within the school and the establishment of small learning communities. Additional internships with local businesses, including smaller, more entrepreneurial establishments should be pursued. As discussed below, the high school years should emphasize rigorous coursework and reward students who pursue it.

Valuing and celebrating learning. Learning will not occur unless it is prized. Consultants learned that in too many cases the pressure for achievement will lead students to pursue less rigorous courses so that they can may earn a higher grade. TPSD must work to encourage the entire community to recognize and reward strenuous efforts at learning. This should include:

1. Recognition for students who take and succeed in the most rigorous courses. Tupelo now has a Rotary Scholar program, which recognizes students with the highest grades regardless of course content. In some cases, students are recognized who avoid the most challenging experiences. A second recognition program, which explicitly honors those students who succeed in the toughest courses, should be created. At the same time, teachers who are known for creative approaches to rigorous learning should also be recognized.

2. Information for families. TPSD should provide information through family workshops, postings on its website, and strategic use of the media about the challenging educational opportunities and advanced placement experiences it offers along with explanations about why students should pursue these opportunities.

3. Private incentives. Private organizations, including philanthropic, business and public school support groups, such as the Association for Excellence in Education (see below for further discussion about AEE) should be encouraged to develop recognition programs that honor students who achieve at the highest levels in the most challenging courses. These organizations should also develop materials that promote the most challenging academic opportunities.

Creating safe and secure environments for learning. An educational climate in which every student thrives must be one in which every student feels safe and unthreatened. Families must share this feeling or support for the schools will evaporate. To ensure that every school is safe and secure, TPSD leadership should provide, among other things:

Accurate overview information about the safety climate at each school, which will, for the most part, demonstrate the safety and security of Tupelo schools.

A policy statement that describes TPSD's commitment to protecting all students and providing a climate where all will remain in school and pursue education.

Accurate and prompt information about incidents, disciplinary issues, and other related matters when they occur to inform the community and reduce the possibility of rumors and inaccurate information.

A rapid response team that will have the capacity to respond quickly to serious incidents at each school, pursuant to a plan.

A school safety plan that includes, but is not limited to, a two-strikes rule for certain serious matters, and discretionary authority for principals and teachers to use their professional knowledge within guidelines to determine disciplinary action.

A safe zone around each school that will consistently be applied to keep non-students from unauthorized entry to school premises.
The opportunity for each elementary school (K-3 and 4-6) to experiment with dress codes.

Extensive opportunities and counseling for students to remain in traditional schools and pursue all available educational opportunities.

A strengthened plan for, based on an intensive review of, TPSDs alternative educational opportunities that will encourage students unable to remain in traditional classroom settings to persist in their education instead of dropping out.

Goal 2. Support Tupelo Public School District employees in understanding and embracing the districts vision, mission and goals, in devoting themselves to pursuing excellence in education and in performing at the highest levels possible.

No school system can succeed in improving student learning unless it has high capacity adults in positions of responsibility. One of the greatest challenges for any system is building adult capacity. To do so, school systems require a plan, dedication, collegiality, cooperation and the support of a knowledgeable and informed community. Consultants recommend concerted efforts at teambuilding, internal communication, professional learning geared to specific needs in Tupelo, greater efforts to ensure diversity in the professional staff, and a system of incentives to attract and retain excellent teachers and administrators.

A. Team building and communication. Ensuring that all TPSD faculty and staff understand and are committed to the districts vision, mission and goals requires effective internal communications within the district and an investment in team building so that educators at every level work collaboratively and collegially instead of in isolation.

1. Communication. TPSD should develop and implement an internal communication plan to introduce and maintain a flow of information to and from principals, teachers and other district personnel. The internal communication plan will include, among other things:

a. strategies that ensure the continuous flow of information to principals and other school leaders about critical issues/policies/programs related to teaching and learning. For example, monthly principal meetings with the superintendent should focus on surfacing and addressing common challenges principals confront in supporting their teachers ongoing professional growth or their own development as instructional leaders.
b. mechanisms for teachers and principals to provide regular feedback to central office administrators and professional staff so that efforts to strengthen teaching and improve learning are not static but rather are continuously enhanced.

Team building. TPSD will undertake a systemic team building effort. Such an effort will include, but not be limited to:

development and implementation of a strategy to break down central office silos and facilitate cooperation across areas. As part of this, personnel policies should be reviewed and a new evaluation system that aligns with the strategic plan should be adopted for all central office personnel.
provision of guidance and support by TPSD leadership to individual schools in helping them to develop school-based plans to create professional learning communities and encourage, wherever possible and appropriate, collaboration across content areas and grade levels.
development and facilitation by TPSD leadership of a learning community for school leaders, including principals and assistant principals. The learning experiences provided to school leaders will focus on their growth as instructional leaders and may include such activities as group retreats, study or reading groups, and walk-throughs in which leaders visit one anothers schools, working together, identify strengths and challenges and strategies to move schools forward.

B. Professional learning. The vision held by TPSD of student learning is ambitious. It calls for educators who are similarly ambitious for their students. This suggests that Tupelo should introduce the concept of a master teacher or a Tupelo Teacher, who will be considered highly qualified and whose qualifications, both formal and informal, may exceed state requirements. To ensure that every educator within TPSD is motivated to become highly qualified, TPSD will, among other things:

1. Develop a comprehensive professional learning plan. This will be aligned with student learning goals and will facilitate the professional growth of educators so that they fulfill the TPSD vision of highly qualified teachers and principals. In doing so, TPSD leadership will, among other things:

a. define, with meaningful input from teachers and principals, the skills, knowledge and practices that a highly qualified teacher and a highly qualified principal must have in TPSD; these may exceed the expectations outlined in the Mississippi Department of Educations definition of a highly qualified teacher
b. provide ongoing learning opportunities for principals and teachers with demonstrated effectiveness such as school-based coaches that respond to the specific academic needs of their students. These opportunities should be offered on two levels district-wide such as on-site literacy coaches at every school and site-specific such as targeted support to individual or small groups of teachers requiring assistance in specific content or pedagogical areas.

Align personnel policies and practices. These policies include recruitment, hiring and retention and should be aligned with the TPSD definition of a highly qualified teacher. This may involve a comprehensive mentoring program for new teachers and reducing intra-district teacher mobility so that teachers are better able to build professional communities within schools.

3. Align district and school budgets. Budgets for each school and the district as a whole should reflect student and teacher learning goals so that, where possible, funding streams are combined and providing effective teacher learning opportunities is prioritized among expenditures.

Establish school-based progress plans. TPSD should create teams at each school that will create annual plans outlining student achievement goals based on the districts achievement goals and lay out specific steps to reach those goals as well as benchmarks by which faculty can assess their progress throughout the year. The superintendent should review each plan with principals and will meet with principals at their schools at least twice during the school year to gauge schools progress.

C. Diversity. Recruiting qualified teachers is at best a difficult process; as TPSD is discovering, it is compounded by the need to pursue a diversified teaching force. The racial make-up of educators in Tupelo is drawing increased attention from African-American parents, professionals, and community leaders. The district has responded to this by creating a task force to deal with the issue. Over the next year, the district should:

1. Expand the committee and its activities. The committee should include more community representation and higher ranking district personnel. It should engage in more direct recruitment of historically black colleges and universities, and consider instituting pipeline recruitment practices, whereby Tupelo High School students are encouraged to become teachers and incentives are provided for them to pursue teaching degrees and return to Tupelo.

2. Make the committee more accountable. Committee meetings should be scheduled regularly. A budget should be provided for its work, and it should report to the Superintendent and the public on its activities.

3. Incentives. The incentives for teachers (discussed below) in Tupelo should be widely publicized in minority media and at historically black colleges and universities.

D. Incentives. Recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers is not only a district responsibility, it is a community concern. TPSD should convene and work with business leaders, the lending community, and various nonprofit organizations to consider and implement low-cost housing loans for teachers, subsidized study tours for highly qualified teachers, subsidized sabbaticals and summer internships.

Goal 3. Promote community knowledge about, participation in and support for excellent education in Tupelo.

Over and over again, Consultants were told of the need for TPSD to strengthen its communications. It became clear that communications was a shorthand description for a set of separate but connected activities. The first of these is providing information on what is happening in the schools, on school policy, and procedures. The second involves systematically telling the many compelling stories of educational accomplishment and innovation in the district. The third involves interacting with the public to ensure engagement in the schools and to build public support for continuous improvement. The recommendations below embrace all of the foregoing needs.

A. Annual communications plan. Each year the Superintendent and the director of communications should prepare a communications plan that will contain a comprehensive set of goals and strategies. Among the strategies should be:

1. Expanded communications devices. These should include a revised, interactive website that is updated on a regular basis, a monthly newspaper column purchased by the district for the Superintendent, two community-wide meetings each year at each school, periodic school board meetings at school sites, and a communications plan for the rapid response teams referred to above.

2. Enhanced family involvement. This should include annual family orientations for each grade, parent surveys, increased guidance to parents, particularly of students who are at risk for academic failure on how they can best support their childrens academic learning at home, and increased mechanisms for families to ask questions of, or provide feedback to the district or individual schools.

Effective community response. This should include training for central office staff in responding to telephone calls, requests for appointments, and information requests. A voice mail system should be instituted to ensure that the public can leave messages for senior administrators. The Superintendent, perhaps utilizing the newspaper column, should provide an annual report to the community, which will include the progress made in implementing the strategic plan, a review of issues that need attention, an explanation of opportunities to build excellence in TPSD. The annual report should stress achievements in teaching and learning.

B. Community engagement. Schools are a community enterprise and no school system will succeed without the ongoing support and engagement of other institutions. Tupelo has a high degree of civic capacity and powerful organizations that are interested in and concerned about public education. Expanding and building on relationships with these organizations will enable the system to, where appropriate, coordinate their work with other organizations that serve children and their families, expand the understanding within the business sector of the need for a highly educated populace that can draw and support a diversified, knowledge-based economy, and build public and political will to invest in TPSD. This should include:

1. An expanded AEE. The Association for Excellence in Education provides incentives for classroom instruction. In this regard, it is similar to local education funds, which exist throughout the country. Local education funds have, in many places, expanded their functions to provide wider support and input to public education. This may include helping to underwrite some of the incentives for teaching and learning discussed above, providing thoughtful advice on proposed policies and best practices, helping to rally community understanding and support for innovative educational ideas, and systematically promoting the value of public education to the community.

2. Strengthened interactions with the business community. The district should initiate regular meetings with CDF and other segments of the business community, particularly smaller entrepreneurial organizations, to engage them in supporting new ideas and innovations, in understanding their needs, and in promoting public and political will to support TPSD in its efforts to produce a highly educated and skilled workforce.

3. Increased interaction with the faith community. Tupelo is a very religious community. Faith-based organizations should be made more aware of the districts values and how these values play out in its activities. In addition, the district, in conjunction with one or more organizations, could develop a mentoring program targeted to at-risk eighth, ninth and tenth graders, those most likely to drop out of school. The district would identify and provide referrals for students and meeting space as needed for mentors and mentees while community organizations recruit, train and monitor mentors.

Goal 4. Ensure that the Tupelo Public School District is recognized for providing an excellent education to its students.

As has been noted, TPSD is, in many ways, a leader. Leadership involves commitment, innovation, and risk-taking. It also involves recognition for each of these elements. Recognition strategies include:

A. Publications. TPSD should commission and publish Education: The Tupelo Way about its history, the role of education in the community, its new strategic plan and how Tupelo aspires to be at the cutting edge of educational excellence.

B. A culture of openness. The district should nurture a practice and culture of openness in both internal and external communication not only celebrating successes but also acknowledging challenges which, in turn, will build trust in and respect for the district. Among other things, TPSD will:

Disseminate data. TPSD will release, in a user-friendly format, qualitative and quantitative data on student achievement in a timely manner and to all constituencies.

Encourage involvement. TPSD will ensure that key stakeholders, including teachers, parents and principals, have meaningful input into important decisions that affect teaching and learning.

C. Outreach. Tupelo is at the center not only of Lee County but also of Northeast Mississippi. TPSD should position itself as what one interviewee termed the bright light in the regional future. TPSD should then systematically engage individuals and organizations in this region and beyond. To do so, it should consider:

Summer institutes. With outside funding, TPSD should invite educators to share professional learnings, collaborate on new curricula, explore innovative uses of technology, and reflect on regional needs in education and economic growth.

Increased interaction non-local actors. These are organizations that might be interested in or able to learn from the TPSD story. Audiences may include local, regional and national foundations such as the Phil Hardin Foundation, the Foundation for the MidSouth, the BellSouth Foundation and education reform groups.

Next Steps

Let the community drive and the schools will thrive. Focus group participant

The recommendations in this report arise out of the first phase of the strategic planning process. They are both systemic and comprehensive. They set the stage for the second and final phase of the strategic planning process. This phase involves the following:

Feedback from the Board of Education. During July, the Board should review this interim report in depth and help narrow these recommendations.

Community input. Beginning with the start of school, Consultants will facilitate one community meeting at each school site to get input from the community on the recommendations, particularly those that are provided for Goal 1. These meetings will take place in the evening to ensure maximum community participation.

Educator input. During this period, Consultants will meet during the day with educators to determine their priorities among these recommendations.

Civic leader and business involvement. Similar meetings will be held with civic and business leaders.

Community surveys. Consultants and TPSD will explore the feasibility of public surveys, using media and/or various workplaces.

Prioritizing strategies. Strategies will be prioritized and specific interim outcomes, timelines, measurements and estimated costs will be attached to each.

Final plan. The final plan will be delivered to the Board by the end of the calendar year.

Phase I of the strategic planning process has been, for the most part, an exploration of strength and commitment. Tupelo has always valued education; this has enabled it to grow and provide an enviable quality of life for most of its citizens. The challenge for it today is to adapt to a changing climate and new needs. This means understanding and agreeing on what excellence in education means and uncompromisingly pursuing it.

In the United States today, there are communities with shuttered downtowns, where trains don't go and planes don't fly, and whose residents seek nothing so much as to leave. There are other communities with vibrant economies, robust civic interactions, and amenities that evoke pride. The difference between these two is often expressed in how well a community's citizens are educated. Tupelo has always been in the forefront of the second group. Prioritizing, adopting and implementing the recommendations set forth here will help to ensure that it continues to lead.

Appendix A: Advisory Committee

Mike Clayborne, Board Chair, TPSD; Lynn Darling, Parent Advisory Group; Henry Dodge, Businessperson; BillHannah, Daily Journal; Amy Heyer, TPSD, ex officio; Randy McCoy, Superintendent, TPSD; Ricky Patterson, Businessperson; Jack Reed, Reed's Department Stores; TeresaTurner, Principal, TPSD

Appendix B: Interviewees, Focus Group & Meeting Participants

Elizabeth Akers, Retired teacher; Polly Bailey, Former board member; Ruth Baker, TPSD; Renee Baldwin, Parent, Danny Barrows; President, Tupelo City Council; Martha Bland, TPSD Board; Linda Blocker, Parent; Helen Boerner, Parent; LaKeisha Bowdry, TPSD; David Brevard, Businessperson; Shawn Brevard, Parent; Anita Buchanan, TPSD; LuAnn Buskirk, Parent; M.D.Cameron, TPSD; Martha Cheney, Retired administrator; Michelle Chrome, Parent; Leon Clay, Former board member; Mike Clayborne, Board Chair, TPSD; Linda Clifton, TPSD; Ramon Correro, Retired teacher; John Cother, Retired administrator; Billy Crews, Publisher, Daily Journal; Mac Curlee, TPSD; Lynn Darling, Parent Advisory Group; Nettie Davis, Tupelo City Council; Jonny Davis, AEE; Debbie Davis TPSD; Sharon Davis, TPSD; Doyce Deas, Former board member; Henry Dodge, Businessperson; Joan Dozier, TPSD; Susan Dudley, TPSD; Ann Blair Evans, Parent; Diane Ezell, TPSD; Phil Ferguson, TPSD; Florestine Gladney, TPSD Board; Elquin Gonzalez, Religious leader

Appendix B: Interviewees, Focus Group & Meeting Participants, cont.

Bill Hannah, Daily Journal; Larry Harmon, TPSD; Claude Hartley, Former board member; Amy Heyer, TPSD, ex officio; Jenni Hilbun, Parent; Julie Hinds, TPSD; Karen Holiday, Parent; Patty Hosch, TPSD; Ann Blair Huffman, Parent; Chuck Imbler, Businessperson; Robert Jamison, Religious leader; Kim Jenkins TPSD; Frances Jernigan, Retired teacher; BrendaJohnson, TPSD; Susan Johnstone, TPSD; Mary Howard King, Parent; Carole Kloha, TPSD; Terry Ledbetter, Religious leader; Eldridge Lowe, TPSD; Steve Ludt,TPSD Board; Marian Maloney, Former board member; Georgia Marlin, TPSD; Lynn McAlpin, Retired teacher; Buddy McCarty, Businessperson; Randy McCoy, Superintendent, TPSD; Charlotte McElroy, Former board member; Martha McNeil, TPSD; David Meadows, TPSD; Brenda Merriweather, TPSD; Debbie Milton, TPSD; Bob Monroe, TPSD; Brenda Morehead, TPSD; Andi Nolan, Parent; Larry Otis, Mayor, City of Tupelo; Norma Pardin, TPSD; Christine Partlow, Retired teacher; Ricky Patterson, Businessperson; Linda Pawel, TPSD
Appendix B: Interviewees, Focus Group & Meeting Participants, cont.

Vicki Payne, TPSD; Leon Payton, Parent; Mozella Payton, Parent; Mary Ann Plasencia, Parent; Julian Prince, Retired administrator; Sallie Kate Ray, Parent; Jack Reed Jr., Reeds Department Stores; Jack Reed Sr., Civic leader; Robert Rice, Businessperson; Bill Rieves, Retired administrator; Kenneth Roberts, TPSD; Don Robertson, TPSD; Brenda Robinson, TPSD; Skip Robinson, Former board member; Kathy Robinson, Businessperson; Lynne Rogers, TPSD; David Rumbarger, Community Development Foundation; Betty Rutledge, Retired teacher; Terri Rutledge, TPSD; Glenda Scott, TPSD; Craig Shannon, TPSD; Sue Shaw-Smith, TPSD; Forrest Sheffield, Religious leader; Bobby Sheffield, TPSD; Paul Shelly, TPSD; Ellen Short, Businessperson; Janna Sowers, Parent; Adra Sparkman, TPSD; Larry Stewart, Businessperson; Kelly Stimpson, TPSD; Nat Stone, Retired administrator; Mary Thomas, Parent; Christy Todd, TPSD; Teresa Turner, Principal, TPSD; JimTurner, TPSD; Derwood Tutor, TPSD; Dale Warriner, TPSD.

Appendix B: Interviewees, Focus Group & Meeting Participants, cont.

Lowell Watkins, Religious leader; Mary Webb, TPSD; Wes Westbrook,Parent; Tammy Wheeler, Parent; Ken Wheeler, Parent; Steve White, TPSD Board; Lewis Whitfield, Businessperson; Jimmy Williams, TPSD; Beverly Williams, Parent; Marion Winders TPSD; Mary Ruth Wright,TPSD; Carol Wright,TPSD.

- At this writing there are outstanding data requests to TPSD. These data will be reviewed when they are forthcoming from the district and, if appropriate, included in the second phase report.
- According to the districts 2000-01 report card, 49.3 percent of its high school students take the ACTs college prep curriculum while only 38.5 percent of high school students across Mississippi do so.
- NCES Statistical Analysis Report: Overview of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools and Districts: School Year 2001-02.
- School Improvement Research Series, School Size, School Climate and Student Performance. Kathleen Cotton, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.