NASD leader: Teacher stability critical to district’s success

Published 1:42 am Saturday, October 22, 2016

NATCHEZ — Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Fred Butcher points to the successes and failures at the district’s schools as examples of why a stable teacher corps is important.

The district received an F from the Mississippi Department of Education, and six of the Natchez-Adams schools were also judged to be failing.  The failing schools are six of 122 statewide that failed. Approximately 14 percent of schools in the state failed in recent accountability grading. In the district, Natchez High School, Natchez Freshman Academy, Morgantown College Prep Academy, Morgantown Leadership Academy, Morgantown Arts Academy and Susie B. West Elementary School all failed.

Natchez Early College Academy received a B grade. McLaurin Elementary School earned a C. Robert Lewis Magnet School and Joseph L. Frazier Elementary School received D grades.

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Butcher said the C grade at McLaurin is attributable to five years of solid retention of a teacher corps.

“They have a group of very strong teachers who have worked together to understand the new standards and provide aligned instruction to their students,” Butcher said. “Teacher stability is a key element for improving instruction within a school and positively impacting student achievement.

“Constantly having to train new staff, while working with long-term substitute teachers, impacts the ability to grow student achievement.”

The B grade earned by the early college academy, Butcher said, is due to the application process and the small learning environment at the school aimed at helping students earn college credit.

“The academy was created to provide students with rigorous instruction with the goal of affording those students an opportunity to accumulate undergraduate credits while enrolled in high school,” Butcher said.

“Because it is an accelerated program, students selected are the more motivated students.”

Robert Lewis Magnet School needed 13 points to move from a D to a C, Butcher said. RLMS dropped from a B grade during the 2014-15 year. The school actually scored points in the D range for 2014-2015, but a waiver provided to schools by MDE kept their grade higher.

Butcher said RLMS was one of several schools in the district with high staff turnover. Butcher said he was also concerned with the content knowledge of some teachers at Robert Lewis and at Frazier, which also received a D.

“Frazier experienced the highest teacher turnover this previous school year,” he said. “This year, we have a very energetic administrative team who are working closely with teachers in improving instruction and monitoring student achievement throughout the school year.

“I believe that the support of the academic coaches and the tri-school professional development is going to assist them in moving to a higher accountability level.”

Morgantown Arts Academy performed the worst in the district, and out of 642 middle schools and elementary schools in the state, ranked near the bottom at number 621. The reading proficiency — students who scored at level four of five levels on the Mississippi Assessment Program exam or higher — was 3.5 percent.

“We are also increasing the amount of instructional support available at the Morgantown campus to support teachers in increasing student growth and achievement,” Butcher said.

The superintendent said he anticipates seeing an increase at the now combined Morgantown College Prep and Leadership Academy, as the merger enabled the district to put more students with highly qualified teachers.

Butcher said Natchez Freshman Academy has a new team that has quickly improved the culture.

“Freshman Academy has structured a traditional schedule that allows for more opportunities for student interventions,” Butcher said. “This year and with plans to expand next year, the school is going to offer more advanced course offerings.”

One key about Natchez High School, Butcher said, is the school is fully staffed with certified teachers.

“(Principal Tony) Fields and his staff have worked to change the culture of the high school, and we are pleased with what we are seeing over there,” Butcher said. “Employees have increased their expectations of students and students are working to meet those challenges.”

Butcher said he challenged the community to refocus its energy on impacting student’s lives.

“Research shows that in order to turnaround chronically low-performing students, districts must be able to build committed staffs,” Butcher said. “There has to be a sense of urgency throughout our community — parents, teachers, administrators and students.”