School district grade is responsibility of all of us

Published 9:35 am Monday, October 2, 2023

We’ve seen some significant progress in the Natchez-Adams School District over the last five years. New facilities – including a state-of-the-art high school – have been complemented by new leadership.

And in 2022, the once-failing district earned a B rating from the Mississippi State Department of Education – its highest rating to date. Like most people in Natchez and Adams County, we were thrilled with the post-pandemic surprise that raised the hopes and expectations internally and externally.

This year, the district saw that rating drop by one letter grade to a C – a disappointing step down for the district and for the community.

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Now, we are asking what that C grade really means for our students, their education and our community.

There is no question that Superintendent Zandra McDonald-Green and the faculty and staff are working to raise both expectations and performance. And they’ve been successful, with continued improvements in overall math, English, history and science proficiency year-over-year. But the rate of improvement – a critical metric which indicates forward momentum – has slowed, and the administration has to figure out to address that.

Shifts in curriculum and focusing on front-line personnel changes can make a difference – we’ve seen that happen at schools like Susie B. West Elementary. Natchez Early College – which focuses on advanced placement and dual enrollment opportunities – is an undeniable success.

But the Natchez-Adams public schools face significant uphill battles. More than 25% of the residents of Adams County live below the poverty line. Less than 1 percent of the district’s students were enrolled in any sort of preschool program before attending school, and more than 18% of the district’s students are considered chronically absent – meaning they are absent at least 10% of the time enrolled.

The graduate rate at NASD – while improving – is still only 88.4% and only 16% of students meet benchmarks on ACT and career readiness standards.

Systemic socio-economic challenges face our community as well as our schools, and they will not be easily fixed.

We all want public schools that educate our college-bound students and prepare them to excel; that prepare students entering the workforce with skills needed for successful careers; and that inspirate students and equip them with an understanding of their role in our community and in its future.

We have issues in our community that our public school system alone can’t fix. In many ways, this C score is a rating on more than our school district. That grade is also a reflection of what our community is doing — or not doing —to prepare students to learn and be successful.

For the Natchez-Adams School District, we have to measure that improvement – and that success – one year at a time.