OUR OPINION: Some progress needs to inspire even more

By NEMS Daily Journal

Northeast Mississippi’s public school districts generally made a strong showing in the statewide school rankings announced this week and expected to be made official today by the state Board of Education. They were based on results from testing in the spring of 2011.
Eight schools – two more than in 2010 – earned Star designation, the highest rating based on multiple measures of performance, and 12 of 32 districts in the region achieved High Performing status, the second-highest of seven levels in the accountability model.
As a proportion, 37 percent of the Star and High-Performing districts/schools statewide are in Northeast Mississippi.
Booneville High, New Albany High, Oxford High, D.T. Cox Elementary (Pontotoc), Pontotoc Junior High, South Pontotoc High, Belmont School and Tishomingo County High all achieved Star school status.
Lee County maintained its Successful (third) rating districtwide and had five schools rated high-performing.
Tupelo maintained its Academic Watch status, which is fourth-level, and had one High Performing school, Lawndale Elementary.
The difference was that Lee County met academic growth expectations and Tupelo did not, a factor in the 2010 ranking, too.
Tupelo’s ranking and progress remain an issue of communitywide concern because expectations are much higher than performance achieved.
The 2010-2011 school year was one of administrative upheaval and vocal community discontent, but changes in personnel made during the academic year – and new appointments to principalships during the summer – appear to have given the district’s leaders and teachers a measure of good will and renewed belief that improvement is possible – and expected.
The Tupelo community’s expectations should be viewed as an encouraging positive because in some Mississippi districts community interest in public education is all but non-existent.
Among the High Performing districts in the region was was Monroe County, whose three schools include Smithville.
It is noteworthy that Smithville’s students achieved High Performing scores only days after a terrible and deadly EF-5 tornado destroyed their school, devastated most of their town and killed people many of the students knew as friends or family. They took the tests on borrowed campuses. The Smithville students, teachers and administrators are due special praise for holding steady under the most adverse of circumstances.
On a separate note, striving for success created an extra reward this week for Saltillo High School, which for its achievements was designated a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
Saltillo High becomes the first school in the Lee County School System to achieve the national honor. A formal presentation and recognition will be held in coming weeks.