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Educators hope Common Core stays in play amid state debate

Robert Lewis Magnet School seventh-grade students Darrell Stewart, left, and Tanner Holland, right, work on their history project about who built the pyramids during class. RLMS is among the schools in the Natchez-Adams School District that use curriculum aligned to the Common Core State Standards. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Robert Lewis Magnet School seventh-grade students Darrell Stewart, left, and Tanner Holland, right, work on their history project about who built the pyramids during class. RLMS is among the schools in the Natchez-Adams School District that use curriculum aligned to the Common Core State Standards. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ Local educators and supporters of Common Core say any state decision to waver from the rigorous academic standards will not be in the best interest of Natchez students and ultimately will flush thousands of taxpayer dollars down the drain.

The Common Core State Standards are a set of academic standards developed to ensure students across the country are held to consistent expectations that will prepare them for college and the career field.

Introduced in 2010, the new Common Core aligned standards, called Mississippi’s College and Career Ready Standards, were fully implemented statewide this school year in English and math.

Seventh-grade student Ashunti Barnes writes on poster board while working on her history project. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Seventh-grade student Ashunti Barnes writes on poster board while working on her history project. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

But the Natchez-Adams School District has been implementing the standards gradually since they were adopted in 2010, Superintendent Frederick Hill said.

Though Hill joined the district in 2012, he said the district had a timeline in place when he arrived that listed when certain grades would be phased in to the standards.

Hill, a supporter of the standards, continued the timeline already developed and used it to ensure that Natchez students would have as much exposure ahead of the full statewide implementation.

“We didn’t want to wait until it became mandatory or a requirement before we actually started looking at the implementation of it,” Hill said. “We wanted to have some years built in to make sure we had as much of the kinks worked out as we could.”

That early implementation, Hill said, included countless hours of professional development for district administrators and teachers as well as a curriculum-rewriting project.

District teachers and staff worked to rewrite the curriculum in 2013 to align the district’s curriculum with the Common Core State Standards for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

“The teachers got an opportunity to see firsthand the curriculum they were developing and see what needed to be changed,” Hill said. “Nothing is better than when you have that hands-on interaction from the people who will actually be using the material in the classroom.”

Hill said he estimates the district has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in training, curriculum documents, professional development and technology upgrades to handle testing to prepare the district for Common Core implementation.

Seeing those efforts wiped away by decisions looming on the state level, Hill said, would be tragic.

“This is an example of wasting taxpayer dollars because we’ve done all this preparation for all this, and now it’s going to get snatched away?” Hill said. “My guess is that it’s not going to change completely, but some facets of it will change and that’s going to make us have to change the professional development we’ve done and will do in the future.”