Natchez schools improve letter grades on report card

Published 12:10 am Friday, October 17, 2014

NATCHEZ — Three schools in the Natchez-Adams School District received higher letter-grade ratings from the state this year compared to last year, including one school that jumped from an F to a C.

The Mississippi Department of Education released today individual accountability letter grades for each of the state’s 152 public school districts.

The NASD as a whole also improved going from an F rating to a D rating.

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“These improvements show that we’re getting better and that we’re no longer a failing school district, but we can still do better,” Superintendent Frederick Hill said. “I think they’re an indication that we’re headed in the right direction.”

The letter grades are based on Mississippi’s new accountability model, which scores how schools and students performed on the state’s new, more rigorous college-and-career-readiness standards.

The new accountability system places a greater emphasis on high school graduation rates and student growth, particularly for the lowest-performing students.

In the new results, West and Frazier elementary schools and Natchez High School all improved their ratings.

West went from an F rating to a C rating through what Principal Alice Morrison called a “building-wide effort.”

“This was in no way a one person thing, because we had every single person in this building trying to figure out the best way we could help these students,” Morrison said. “We came together with one common goal, and that’s what we were able to achieve.”

Morrison said teachers in the building relied on data from benchmark assessments throughout the year to drive instruction in the classroom.

“Every time we did an assessment of some sort, we got out the data and compared it to the last set of data to see what had changed and what we needed to do differently,” Morrison said. “And that’s what we have to continue doing because we still have some ways to go. But the this tells us we’re headed in the right direction.”

Frazier Elementary School, as well as NHS, went from F to D ratings.

Frazier Principal Tony Fields said the improvements were a result of hard work by students and teachers, as well as keen data observation by everyone at the school.

“The teachers did a great job of adjusting their instruction according to the student data results they were given, and even the students were doing that as well,” Fields said. “The students knew what their data was showing, and they were encouraged to set goals for them selves, which led to a lot of them showing significant improvement.”

Like the staff at West, Fields said the school used the results of benchmark assessments students took throughout the year to get an idea of how students were grasping each concept in the classroom.

“Those showed us, for example, that we were very successful in math, but that we needed to improve our reading,” Fields said. “We were able to put a huge focus on literacy, and I think that paid off.”

Robert Lewis Magnet School, which completed its first full school year in May, received it’s first accreditation rating today — a B.

“We’re just ecstatic,” RLMS Principal Zandra McDonald said. “I hope once these scores are released it will fuel that idea that we are about excellence here and that we set the bar high and expect everyone to reach those expectations we have set.”

The school, which is located at the former Robert Lewis Middle School, opened its doors to sixth-grade students in the 2013-14 school year and expanded to grades six through eight this school year.

Hill said the magnet school, with its smaller class sizes and more personalized instruction, has become a model for how he hopes schools across the district will eventually look.

“What we’re seeing at Robert Lewis is that those smaller learning communities are really paying off,” Hill said. “That’s really what led us to want to redesign Morgantown and the (Natchez) High School to mirror that.”

Morgantown Middle School retained its F rating from last year, but Hill said he’s confident that letter grade won’t be there long.

The school underwent changes this year as part of a district restructuring plan that included splitting Morgantown into three different academies — arts, leadership and college prep academy.

“I still think we saw a lot of improvement at Morgantown even though they still have the F rating,” Hill said. “They were able to show some improvements that we hope will continue.”

Another newly formed school in the district — the Natchez Freshman Academy — received a D rating for the first time.

McLaurin Elementary School kept its C rating.

The release of the grades was delayed one month to provide districts more time to evaluate their preliminary data.

Because the 2013-14 school year was a transition year with the introduction of the new standards, the U.S. Department of Education granted Mississippi a one-year waiver for the 2013-14 school year, allowing individual districts to retain the letter grade it received for the 2012-13 school year if the 2013-14 grade is lower as a result of new assessments, according to the MDE.

The letter grade system replaced the use of previous word descriptions such as star, high performing, successful, academic watch, lower performing, at-risk of failing and failing.

Across the state, 19 Mississippi school districts received an A, 43 received a B, 48 received a C, 39 received a D. Only one school district received an F rating this year, compared to 15 last year.