D on school report card not fatal for district

Published 12:07 am Sunday, July 17, 2016

If you live in Adams County, you should be disappointed in your investment in the public school system.

The state school accountability report card released this week was less than glowing for the Natchez-Adams School District.

Results were for the school year 2014-2015, the long delay caused at the state level.

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As a whole, Natchez-Adams received a D grade.

Only Joseph L. Frazier Elementary School improved its letter grade on the state assessments, moving from a D to a C grade.

All other district schools either stayed at the same level as the prior year or would have dropped if not for a state waiver that allowed schools to keep their prior year’s grade if the new, more stringent tests would have made the school drop a grade.

How is that for light on accountability?

You didn’t do well on this year’s test? No problem, just count your score from the previous year.

I’ve just about lost faith in the state’s school grading system. Almost each new year brings a new system or variation of testing. With each change the criteria tested and manner in which a person must decipher the results seems to grow ever more complex and difficult for the normal, non-educator to understand.

Certainly, we can come up with a simpler, more easy to follow method for grading our schools.

For the moment, though, the tests are the tests and as interim Natchez-Adams School Superintendent Fred Butcher said, “We are working under a ‘no excuses’ process. We are acknowledging our challenges and working to implement strategies to address and overcome those challenges.”

Butcher’s forthrightness is a breath of fresh air in the district.

As the proverbial bullets began flying during former superintendent Frederick Hill’s tenure, he seemed to shrink away from the public eye, which was exactly the opposite of what he should have done.

Hill hired a public relations person and appeared to have become less and less engaged with the public.

Butcher seems confident in acknowledging the district’s flaws and challenges.

Clearly, the Natchez-Adams District is fighting a strong headwind that is pushing against it.

The district suffers from a drain of students who might otherwise buoy the test results. Many of those students attend private and parochial schools in the area.

It’s difficult to blame them, given the test results. To have only one of six schools in the entire state labeled as an F-ranked school isn’t exactly something in which the Natchez-Adams District should take great pride.

With Butcher’s seemingly steady, matter-of-fact hand on the rudder, the school district seems poised to stabilize itself after a few years of rough water.

With any luck Butcher will remain at the helm for a period of time so the district’s upward momentum can be established and a new, positive leader found.

The school district can — and will, I believe — regain its strength and success again, but doing so will take a good bit of time and an incredible amount of effort from all parties involved — from the superintendent’s office down to the students and their parents.

Our community must realize that a D on a report card isn’t a life sentence, but merely a mark in time.

With careful, smart improvements, that D can become a C and eventually a B and even an A, but such improvements require hard work, studying the problems at hand and diligent efforts all around.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.