Yes, public education could use some improvement

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, July 24, 2022

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We’ve watched firsthand our public school system, despite facing public scrutiny for it, build a new state-of-the-art high school from the ground up.

Additionally, COVID-19 relief funds have been used to make lasting improvements to all of the district’s schools, some of them structural necessities and some purely academic.

They’ve built a fully renovated middle school out of the existing high school — knocking down walls and putting up new ones and making some security changes so it, too, seems like new and includes high-tech security to keep students safe.

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We’ve watched the number of graduates taking dual enrollment classes at Natchez Early College Academy and earning their associate’s degrees, while still in high school, grow from zero students in the first year to 40 students just last school year. While they didn’t get college degrees, the first 14 students who made up NECA’s first graduating class in 2017 earned between 20 to 34 college credits.

For years, our biggest quarrel with Natchez Adams School District has been its low accountability grade on the state’s A, B, C, D, and F grade scale, which is based on graduation and dropout rates and standardized test results.

Looking back to the 2015-2016 school year, the district’s grade fell from a D to an F.

School officials cited the high turnover rate of teachers and lack of professional support for teachers as the immediate cause. The following year, the district improved back to a D. The district maintained a D grade the next two years but still made strides by getting closer to the statewide average, which is a C. Even as the state set the bar higher, the district showed some improvement.

Then in 2020, the state temporarily suspended this accountability grading system due to mandatory COVID-19 closures. Evidence of the need for in-person learning showed when test results dropped statewide, and Adams County was no exception. The state doesn’t hold the school district to the fire for lack of improvement shown when schools were closed, and neither should we. What matters now is what happens going forward.

So, what will it do to have a new charter school here, should such be approved? Will it pull resources away from our existing schools or will it offer better opportunities for the students of our district? We understand the district’s concerns while supporting any effort that improves the state of public education in Adams County as a whole. We would like to see what the next year or two years bring for NASD, now that they’ve spent a lot of resources building schools and programs that, as Superintendent Fred Butcher said, “Natchez can be proud of.”

With all of the work that NASD is doing to hire and train better teachers, improve programs and resources for students, and have safer facilities, we have high hopes.