Why aren’t our fifth and sixth graders passing?
It’s a question state educational leaders hope they have found the answer to at Central School, which has been under a full-scale assessment over the last few weeks in an attempt to assist the school in reaching higher levels of academic achievement.
The assessment on Central School was conducted by a three-person team: Lillia Jones, Essie Bailey and Jamie Mcklemurry, representatives of the Mississippi Department of Education, who gave a report of initial findings and recommendations to the West Point School Board of Trustees, who were asked to approve MDE’s Schools At Risk Action Plan for Central.The team noted leadership, curriculum and assessment, delivery of instruction and school climate/safety standards that affect the overall performance of students at Central.
“We are here to provide technical assistance to Central School; we’re not here to take over Central School,” Jones said. “We plan to be here, we plan to help, we plan to do whatever we need to do.”
For two consecutive years, Central School has received a failing grade by the Mississippi Department of Education, and a failing grade requires an intervention via an evaluation to conclude reasons for low student performance. If Central School receives a failing label at the end of this current school year, the school will become a New Start School and the employment of the principal as well as each certified and non-certified employee will be terminated from the school district. This is all part of Senate Bill 2293, which passed and took effect July 1, 2010. New Start School programs were created to turn failing schools into educational options of quality.
Only two major strengths were found by MDE at Central, which were well-maintained buildings and grounds and a climate that evaluators believe is conducive for learning. Major challenges found were a lack of rigor to promote higher-order thinking skills, individual student interventions based on test results not effective, lesson plans not evident in classrooms and confusion amongst teachers concerning the Response to Intervention process.
Central School Principal Jon Harper said he, administrators and faculty members began the school year off knowing they and the students were faced with these challenges.
“We were F, I mean just to be honest with you we were F,” Harper said. “We’ve restructured a lot, restructured our teams. We put the skeleton in place now they’re coming to help us put the flesh and muscle on what we had our bones already set. They’re going to help us hand and glove.”
Some of the findings under leadership include a positive relationship between students and staff, more supervision of instruction from administrators needed, no evidence of a data-driven School Improvement Plan and excessive classroom interruptions by announcements.
Recommendations under the leadership standard includes developing the data-driven plan, providing follow-up to teacher evaluations so teachers will know what they need to work on and protect and maximize instructional time.
Findings under curriculum and assessment include instruction that is not based upon student test data analysis, class tests not in line with Mississippi’s Frameworks Curriculum and pacing guides developed by Case 21 with no input from teachers.
“I would like to say in the case of Case 21, it’s new to me,” McKlemurry said. “Last year was the first time I was introduced to it so I did not understand completely, but this district seems to have developed, through Mr. Harper and Mr. Hollis, a working relationship with the people at Case 21. So I think that’s going to help alleviate a lot of the problems.”
Other findings include teachers’ questioning techniques lacked focus and higher level thinking skills, group settings without accommodations for individual learner differences, adequate classroom supplies, out-dated school crisis management plan, no celebration of staff success and school doors unlocked from the outside. But in the last week, the school has taken measures to better secure the school, McKlemurry said.
“That campus is a much more secure place now,” she said.
Recommendations for some of these findings are implementation of a rigorous lesson activities that require higher-order thinking skills, using a mixture of instructional methods to accommodate differences of learning, revise and provide training on a school safety plan, implement a school-wide discipline plan and celebrate student and staff successes.
West Point School Superintendent Burnell McDonald said the district appreciates the report from MDE, is thrilled for the assistance from MDE and is confident a positive change will be made at Central School.
“We will improve,” McDonald said. “The super thing about it is they’re going to help us, and it’s a partnership, which is what I think is neat about the whole process.”
Mcklemurry said she has already seen evidence of improvements.
The school board unanimously approved the Action Plan as recommended by Harper and MDE. For a full list of findings and recommendations contact the West Point Central Office.
Representatives from MDE will continue their evaluation of Central School until the end of April 2013.