Government, business leaders learn how education in Warren County is on the rise

Published 10:07 am Thursday, August 20, 2015

It all starts with a vision.

As Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Chad Shealy addressed members of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, he said change occurs from the vision of a small group of focused people.

“It is our goal to equip every student with the literacy skills to succeed in challenging courses, meet academic standards and graduate from high school prepared for college or ready for a challenging career,” he said.

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Shealy took over the reigns of the school district less than two years ago, but under his leadership, the district has undergone major changes.

“I never dreamed we would see these things happen in such a short amount of time,” he said. “It’s because we’ve got such good administrators and teachers and students and parents and community members who are coming and moving us forward.”

Shealy said despite the fact 52 percent of all schools in Mississippi had a drop in accountability moving to the Common Core Standards, the Vicksburg Warren School District did not.

“In fact, we had positive growth points of 528 from our impact data in our top 10 schools, which was only 13 points short of raising an entire accountability level,” he said. “That is huge. The work that was done in one year was absolutely astonishing.”

Shealy’s research and data-driven speech included other accomplishments such as finising 5 percent above the state average for the third-grade reading gate scores and 12 points above the state average the kindergarten students finished the year with on their standardized tests, demonstrating a 200 point gain.

Shealy also explained the Gateway To College program, which graduated 32 students who would have dropped out of school. In the process, the same 32 students earned 278 college credits.

Another new program, Star Academy, takes incoming eighth-graders who earn sophomore status at the end of the year, he said.  Eighty students have completed the program.

The school district is purchasing 1,200 Chrome books and 400 desktop computers, Shealy said.

“Each school will be upgraded to have the latest in wireless technology to have the capacity to support one-to-one initiative by summer,” he said. “The plan is in August for every kid to have a device in their hand. That’s a huge step from where we’ve come.”

The number of students taking dual credit and advanced placement courses reached 988 this year, nearly tripling last year’s numbers, Shealy said.

The district has increased the number of prekindergarten classes to eight.

“We get no benefit for this,” he said. “We get no funding for this. We want our kids ready for school when they get to us.”

The STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) junior high school Academy of Innovation (formerly known as Scholastic Academy) grew out of its former wing and is now situated at the Grove Street school.

Shealy said the district has added two ninth-grade academies where all students will explore 16 career clusters.

“We have a biomedical class and engineering programs offered that have over $300,000 dollars worth of training and equipment as a part of the programs,” he said. “That was provided by (the) Mississippi Department of Education and grants; it didn’t cost our district a dime.”

Shealy said the amount of Leader in Me Schools has doubled, and the district is increasing support to expand the programto the junior highs.

“We will host the First Leader In Me Symposium in the state,” he said. “This is a 14-state, international event where people will come into Vicksburg, Miss., to see what is happening in our school district.”

Shealy said all of the changes in the district came about while balancing the budget. When Shealy arrived at the district, there was a $8.6 million dollar deficit.

In closing, Shealy spoke briefly of future plans to further help the students in Warren County.

He explained the three career-focused academies being implemented into the high schools and talked about his view of graduating students with associates degrees and career and technical education certifications.

“We will be focusing on creating options outside of regular day to increase graduation requirements to enable more dual enrollment and advanced placement choices,” he said.

All children will be reading on grade level, Shealy said of future goals, adding he plans for VWSD to be the model for STEM education in the state of Mississippi.