NASD highlights improved graduation rate, workforce development program at Friday Forum

Published 6:00 am Saturday, November 13, 2021

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Adams School District’s improved graduation rate as well as workforce development and college readiness programs were all highlights of a Friday Forum.

NASD Deputy Superintendent Zandra McDonald-Green said the school district as a whole has improved its graduation rate from just over 80 percent in 2018 to 87.7 percent in 2021, which is neck and neck with Mississippi’s graduation rate as a whole. Mississippi’s graduation rate of 87.7 percent exceeded the most recent national rate of 85 percent.

Over coffee at Natchez Coffee Co. Friday morning, Miss-Lou officials and citizens listened to NASD officials explain how the school district is a key player in workforce development in the community.

Earlier this week, Velocys announced agreements had been signed with two major airline companies, making their $1.5 million biofuel project in Natchez called Bayou Fuels economically viable and bringing the likelihood of hundreds of new jobs being introduced into the community closer to a reality.

While the groundbreaking of this fuel production facility isn’t projected to take place until 2023, officials have started to plan for its arrival now.

During a Friday Forum organized by the Natchez Adams Chamber of Commerce, at which NASD official were the keynote speakers, Robert Purnell asked whether the school was “training our students for some of those jobs.”

Fallin Career and Technology Center Director Cleveland Moore said the district is.

The center offers training in an array of different career paths with courses in collision repair, construction, digital media technology, early childhood development, health science and teaching.

Fallin also offers a “career pathway experience” which teaches students to foster and enhance their current skills, strengthen core academic skills and explore career options, Moore said.

Students are offered the Work Keys Assessment, which assesses the students’ individual skills and interests to help align students with a career choice that fits them best, he said.

Some of Fallin’s career courses set students on a path to begin working after high school graduation while Natchez Adams School District early college offered at Copiah Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campus gives students a head-start on their higher education.

“Our students are able to take college classes and high school classes simultaneously and earn their associate’s degrees while they’re still in high school and before they’ve even earned their high school diploma,” Natchez Early College Academy Principal Heather Jackson said.

The benefits to early college are that students receive close-knit instruction with coaches nearby. NECA is also free, so students earn their associate’s degree at no cost to them, she said.

NECA, which was founded in 2016, has had a consistent 100 percent graduation and an increasing number of students graduating with dual degrees.

Jackson said in 2018, nine of 34 NECA graduates received their associate’s degree; in 2019, 15 of 33 graduates received their associate’s degree; in 2020, 21 of 33 graduates received their associate’s degree.

In 2021, out of NECA’s 40 graduates, 30 graduated with associates degrees and one with a welding certificate.

“Each year we’re increasing our number of students who graduate with associates degrees. And of those nine students that did not receive associate’s degrees (in 2021), they had at least 35 college credits that they were able to transfer to the school of their choice,” Jackson said.

This school year, Jackson said 46 seniors at NECA are on the right track to graduate with two degrees including some who are enrolled in an LPN program with their first semester behind them.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson pointed out that few school systems in the state offer such a program as Natchez Early College. He added, “ours is the only one in the state that has received national recognition as one of the top performing schools in the nation.”

NASD gives Pre-ACT exams to students at the middle school level, so they have a projected ACT score before they start high school and receive individualized ACT prep classes to help them meet or exceed their expected score, Jackson said.

“Increasing ACT scores is a priority,” she said. Their first two ACT exams are paid for by the school district for students to take in 10th grade. The more times they take the test, the more chances they have at improving their score.

McDonald-Green added, “We tell our students ACT is the money test. The higher their score, the more money they can receive towards their college education. We all know the money is important.”