Natchez-Adams School District receives failing grade by Mississippi Department of Education

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 21, 2016

NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams School District is failing by Mississippi Department of Education accountability standards.

The Mississippi Department of Education Thursday released letter grades for schools and districts based on Mississippi’s A-F accountability system that evaluates how schools and districts performed in the 2015-16 school year.

NASD, one of 19 failing districts in the state, failed due to factors including high teacher turnover and a lack of guidance provided to the teachers and staff on the new accountability standards, Superintendent Fred Butcher said.

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“Over the past years, Natchez-Adams School District has experienced a high percentage of its teachers leaving,” Butcher said. “In some areas, we were unable to secure highly certified teachers to fill those vacancies.

“Teacher stability is a vital component in positively impacting student achievement.”

Butcher said additionally teachers did not receive enough support.

“Teachers were not provided enough guidance and professional development to understand the new standards that were more rigorous than the previous Mississippi Curriculum Framework objectives,” Butcher said.

Butcher was named interim superintendent in April and became superintendent of the schools in September.

Butcher replaced Frederick Hill, whose contract was terminated by the school board after a federal jury found in favor of a former district employee who claimed Hill and the district violated her civil rights. Hill had been superintendent since 2012.

Six schools were marked as failing — Natchez High School, Natchez Freshman Academy, Morgantown College Prep Academy, Morgantown Leadership Academy, Morgantown Arts Academy and Susie B. West Elementary School.

Natchez Early College Academy has a B. McLaurin Elementary School received a C grade from the state.

Robert Lewis Magnet School and Joseph L. Frazier Elementary School received D grades.

The Natchez-Adams School District had been a D school district in the 2014-15 school year due to a waiver, which the state is no longer under.

The U.S. Department of Education had a waiver program to compensate for the state transitioning to higher standards of learning. For the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, the waiver allowed schools and districts to retain the letter grades they received the previous school year if assessment results caused their grades to drop.

“An analysis of state assessment data shows that we had strong growth in the areas of growing lowest performing students, which is an indication that our teachers and administrators really targeted those students with intensive interventions,” Butcher said. “That same attention has to be given to the higher performing students in order to increase their performance.”

Students are graded on five performance levels, with students above level four being considered proficient.

The proficiency percent in the district is 18.6, 15.8 percent for math, 14.9 percent for history and 39.2 percent for science.

Butcher said strategies to improve growth across the performance levels include:

-Improving instruction in all classrooms. Butcher said one aspect that has changed this year is teachers are collaborating better, meeting weekly to plan common lessons, assessments and analyzing student work.

-The curriculum and instruction department has expanded to include academic coaches working closely with individual and small groups of teachers daily for support.

-Using student data to make informed decisions on implementing instructional interventions for students not meeting content area expectations immediately.

-Administration expectations have increased. Butcher said principals and assistants have been challenged to conduct 500 classroom visits this year, where they will provide feedback on what needs adjustment within 24 hours.

Butcher said the school district is also implementing a no excuses policy.

“We are aware that there are multiple factors that have contributed to our district’s low performance over several years,” Butcher said. “However, although there are factors, we do not accept them as excuses, and we know that our community wants to see and needs to see improvements in spite of those factors.

“We can turnaround our district, but it is going to require the hands-on, collaborative of all of our stakeholders.”

Statewide, district grades for 2015-16 include 14 “A” districts, 39 “B” districts, 36 “C” districts, 35 “D” districts and 19 “F” districts.

Natchez-Adams is not the only district in Southwest Mississippi to fail, as similar results were posted in the school districts in Amite, Wilkinson, Claiborne and in the Jefferson counties. Franklin County received a B grade.

School board president Amos James said he had not seen the accountability results, but he said he has noticed the district begin to right the ship.

“Now we have a new administration in, we have new plans and I know that we are looking forward to having a good year this year,” he said.

School board member Phillip West said he was aware of the results. West said the data indicates to him it was past time for the district to change its plan.

“Evidently we were not making progress over the last four to five years,” he said. “Evidently, some of what we have been doing has not been working, while other things have not come to fruition. All I can say is what has transpired has not been good enough.

“We are taking steps to correct the situation, to see the kind of improvement we need to see for the children in the school district.”