Low-performing schools to be visited by state reps

Published 11:44 am Friday, September 23, 2011

Three Vicksburg schools labeled near the bottom of the 2011 accountability ratings will be visited by the Mississippi Department of Education representatives seeking ways to improve the schools.

Visits to the three schools, Vicksburg Junior High, Warren Central Intermediate and Vicksburg Intermediate, will begin Monday, Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford told members of the Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees during its regular meeting Thursday night.

“The objective is to go in and see how schools need us to help them,” said Dr. Laura Jones, the department’s director of Office of School Improvement and Recovery. “We’re not going in and firing folks. We’re trying to help them.”

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Vicksburg Junior High, which was rated as Low Performing this year and At Risk of Failing last year will be visited Monday; Warren Central Intermediate, also Low Performing this year and At Risk of Failing last year, will be visited on Oct. 3. A visitation date for Vicksburg Intermediate by the state office that oversees federal programs, has not been set, Swinford said. The school was ranked Academic Watch this year and last.

Under the accountability ratings, each school is ranked, in descending order, annually as Star, High Performing, Successful, Academic Watch, Low Performing, At Risk of Failing or Failing.

“We’re going to do a needs assessment for each school,” Jones said.

The technical assessment services began last year after the Legislature approved a charter conversion law that allows communities to petition to convert schools to charter facilities if they are in the bottom three ratings of the seven-part scale for three years, Jones said.

“We are trying to prevent all of this,” Jones said. “We are trying to move all the schools up by next year.”

Statewide this year, 28 of 61 assessment-eligible schools were selected. Last year, 34 schools were assessed; 28 of those moved up in their performance labels.

None of VWSD’s 12 schools were labeled At Risk of Failing this year.

During the assessments, which are expected to take up to three days each, MDE representatives will observe classes, conduct teacher and administrator interviews and evaluate teacher lesson plans and a district improvement plan.

Results from the assessments will be presented to the community at a VWSD Board of Trustees meeting within two months, and the community will be allowed to offer comments, Jones said.

Once evaluations are complete, all findings and suggestions will be implemented as soon as possible, Jones said.

In other business, about a dozen guidelines for drafting a new districtwide policy expanding the scope of purchasing student lettermen’s jackets were suggested.

Swinford said a formal policy will be ready for board approval at least by next board meeting, Oct. 27. If approved, the policy will serve as the guideline for any student participating in athletics, academics and arts to receive a jacket at the district’s expense.

Last month, the five-member board had approved seeking bids for lettermen’s jackets for all students who earned a letter, opening the door for band and choir students to receive a jacket at no cost to them.

Neff, an Ohio-based company specializing in school apparel, was awarded the bid at $80 per jacket, the lowest bid.

The cost of buying the additional jackets would be about $13,000, Swinford said. The district currently spends about $8,000 each year on jackets for about 100 student athletes.