NASD leaders look to continue positive momentum this school year

Published 12:11 am Friday, November 14, 2014

NATCHEZ Natchez school leaders applauded improvements on statewide accountability results Thursday, saying the positive momentum this school year could bump the district up to a C rating.

Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Frederick Hill reviewed with the Board of Trustees the results of the recent state accountability results, which included three schools receiving higher letter grades and one of those jumping from an F to a C rating.

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

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Hill said he was proud of the schools for their achievements, especially with so many changes that occurred on the state level.

The state changed its accountability system last year, placing a greater emphasis on high school graduation rates and student growth, particularly for the lowest-performing students.

“We had a lot of things going on in the district,” Hill said. “But if we continue with the same amount of growth we made …we will be a C school district at the least.

“I refuse to go backward.”

Hill emphasized the B ranking that Robert Lewis Magnet School received saying that the school’s model served as the ground floor for testing smaller classes and learning communities, which have now been implemented in various schools throughout the district.

The magnet school completed its first full school year in May, opening its doors to 125 sixth-grade students in the 2013-14 school year. The school expanded to grades six through eight this school year and kept the same number of students for each grade.

“They are our shining star,” Hill said, referring to the magnet school. “Some people said it wasn’t worth the money and resources we put in to do a magnet school … but the numbers speak for themselves.”

Those smaller learning communities have been implemented at Morgantown Middle School, where the school has been split into three different academies — arts, leadership and college prep.

Two of those academies — leadership and college prep — will receive their first state ranking after this school year.

Because it has the most number of students of the three academies, the arts academy, however, inherited the former middle school’s F rating.

Because the academy inherited the F, they must remain under state-monitored scrutiny until test results improve.

The academy’s principal Tawanna Thornton spoke to the board about plans to improve its score this school year.

The Mississippi Department of Education requires schools who have had consecutive failing ratings put in place an “at-risk action plan” to identify areas of improvement to be addressed.

Members of the state will visit the school between two and three days of the week throughout the year to help the academy with its plan, Thornton said.

“Their job is to support me, support our teachers and provide some additional development,” Thornton said.

The state required improvement plan, which was later approved unanimously by board members, details several areas including increasing scores on reading and math assessments as well as lowering student discipline infractions.

Hill related the plan to similar work that occurred at West and Frazier last year, two schools that had also received consecutive F ratings.

West jumped from an F to a C rating, while Frazier jumped from an F to a D rating.

“We saw the results of this kind of work at Frazier and West last year, and they’ve proven they can provide results,” Hill said speaking of the state employees. “They’ll have the same focus at Morgantown that they did at the other two schools with the anticipation of getting results.”

That type of hands-on, advisory work, Hill said, worked at West and Frazier also led him to ask the board to approve a job description for a school improvement officer, a newly created position that would work with teachers and principals on a daily basis to provide support, mentoring, coaching and professional development.

The position would be funded through the district’s federal programs department, Hill said, though no specific salary level was discussed.

Hill said the district has called on those types of services before from outside consultants, but he wanted to see that change to a permanent position within the district.

Board member Cynthia Smith said she felt the job description for the new position should already be a part of each principal’s duties.

Hill said the development of programs and initiatives the school improvement officer would be doing are difficult for a principal to do on top of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Smith disagreed and further said hiring someone within the district for that position didn’t make sense.

“If we have someone in the district who can do that, why aren’t they in an administrative position already?” Smith said. “If there is a person here in this district that is not already an administrator and has those skills, they should be an administrator to begin with.”

The motion to pass the job description for the position passed 3 to 1, with Smith voting against the motion. Board member Benny Wright was absent from Thursday’s meeting.

Hill said the district would begin advertising for the position and accepting applications.