State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright may have been preaching to the choir Thursday with a passionate address in Tupelo to the annual State of the Region meeting, imploring leaders from 17 counties to ramp up the “collective will” of Mississippians about public schools and student achievement.
Wright, who assumed the post in September 2013 and was confirmed by the Senate during the 2014 legislative session, said she believes Mississippi has a “historic opportunity” to seize new opportunities and achieve “world class” educational quality status.
The Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi since its founding almost 20 years ago has laid great stress on increasing educational attainment and the quality of education in its 17-county region.
CREATE Foundation Senior Vice President Lewis Whitfield announced during Wednesday’s meeting that Marshall County had approved a community college tuition guarantee program, completing that guarantee in all 17 commission counties.
Wright’s speech was statewide in scope, a vision that is necessary in dealing with Mississippi’s persistent low rankings in student achievement, financial support and rankings compared to almost all other states.
Her points have been made consistently since the start of her tenure:
• Mississippi must have statewide early childhood education to capture and nurture the intellectual potential of our youngest learners. Implementation, she said, is “critical.”
• Mississippi must implement more demanding standards for all students, and she said the Common Core State Standards remains the best method to achieve improvement.
• Mississippi needs a “sense of urgency” about its students and schools.
• Mississippi must prepare students academically so that they have choices to make when they graduate from high school, with preparation sufficient for a career decision or a college choice.
Wright’s remarks were delivered against a background of measured improvement in some of the Northeast Mississippi region’s benchmarks of attainment:
• Most of the region’s school districts report dropout rates significantly lower than in 2006.
• The regionwide goal of guaranteed community college tuition has been reached.
Other goals, including achieving 80 percent proficiency by all students, have not made the benchmark, but six districts are achieving at more than 70 percent.
Wright correctly noted that raising educational achievement is an essential path to stronger economic growth and broader prosperity, a parallel priority of the commission.
Eventually, the energy for education and economic vitality can fully join forces, and that would be a red letter day in Mississippi.