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Failing schools in NASD, state at risk

NATCHEZ — Two Natchez schools in Natchez would be removed from local school board control if Mississippi lawmakers pass an education bill that would enforce state control on failing schools.

But Natchez-Adams School District officials said they already have plans in place to ensure that won’t happen — even if the proposed bill passes.

The Senate Education Committee added a proposal to House Bill 890 last week, which would allow the state Department of Education to take over any F-rated school that doesn’t reach a C rating after two years, or any F-rated school that improves to C and then ever drops back to D or F.

The two-year clock would begin running with the ratings that follow the school year beginning next fall. That means takeovers could begin sometime after fall 2015.

The state accountability model that grades and rates schools uses a system of A through F to rate schools.

The NASD — along with Morgantown Elementary School and Natchez High School — received an F rating in last year’s accountability results.

Superintendent Frederick Hill said the bill will put into place something that might not need legislative attention.

“It shouldn’t take a law to get our schools to where they need to be,” Hill said. “Anytime you have a failing school, it’s something that needs to be addressed, and I’m confident that we are on the right track to getting away from that designation of F.”

Hill took over as head of the school district on July 1 — after all testing related to last year’s ratings — with one of his main challenges being to increase student achievement.

The state rankings are based on two factors — test score performance and a growth target measuring the improvement students make on tests.

Test score performance is judged based on a formula called a Quality Distribution Index.

The QDI reflects the academic achievement of all students in the district and is represented on a scale of zero to 300, with higher numbers showing a better rating.

The plan Hill has implemented in the district includes raising the district’s QDI rating from a 124 to a 166.

“If we can make that jump we will be labeled as a successful school district and even a high performing district,” Hill said. “It has to be a district-wide effort to help all the schools improve, and I feel very confident that as a district we will reach that goal.”

NASD Board of Trustees President Wayne Barnett said the bill allowing state takeovers doesn’t worry him as much as failing schools.

“What I’m worried about is the schools, whether that’s in Adams County or somewhere else, that are failing,” Barnett said. “If the state can do a better job, more power to them, but I don’t think that’s the answer.

“I think the answer is local control.”

Barnett said the plan Hill has implemented in the district, along with a constant communication between Hill and the board, is the answer to getting the district out of the ranks of failing schools.

“We want to improve public schools, and I think we’ve taken a step in the right direction by hiring Dr. Hill and putting those plans into place,” Barnett said. “We’re trying to make the changes that need to be made and communicate to teachers and principals that it’s time to move this district forward.

“I think you’re going to see, within two years, a different report card for our district.”