Pratt: VWSD scores are highest in years

Published 10:54 pm Friday, October 20, 2017

Under the official accountability scores released by the Mississippi Department of Education Thursday, the Vicksburg Warren School District received a D rating for the second straight year despite seeing an improvement in the score from a 499 to a 502.

Although there was no improvement in the district letter grade, board president Bryan Pratt and superintendent Chad Shealy saw multiple positives in the data reflecting improvements in the district. 

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The graduation rate across the district is the highest it has been since 2009 at 70.7 percent of students graduating in four years. The district also saw all 14 schools either maintain or improve their grade including five schools, South Park Elementary, Sherman Avenue Elementary, Redwood Elementary, Warren Central Intermediate and Warren Central High School, improving by a letter grade despite the state cut scores being raised for many of the grade levels since last year.

“My response to the scores are if you truly look at the data, our scores are the highest they have been in years,” Pratt said. “We have five schools that increased a grade level. We have five schools that are Bs. Fourteen schools either went up a grade level or maintained their grade level.”

Shealy and Pratt both expressed displeasure with the state board of education’s decision to raise the cut scores at the last minute once again. According to numbers provided by The Parent’s Campaign, the cut score for a C raised from a 523 to a 536, the cut score for a B raised from a 588 to a 599 and the cut score for an A dropped from a 672 to a 668.

“The challenge is that our state department of education has proven once again that they don’t really understand what they are doing,” Pratt said. “I equate it to taking a course and thinking an A is a 90-100 and you get to the end of the course once all the tests are taken, and you are told an A is a 95-100. That is not how you do it in the real world. That is not how you should do it now.”

The scores were officially released Thursday, months after the tests were taken during the 2016 school year and two months into the new school year. Pratt said the delay in releasing the scores does not enable the school district to make improvements, because they don’t have the data to base decisions on.

“We take an electronic test in the spring and we don’t get our test scores officially back until today,” Pratt said. “What can we do to effect change from that data if it is so late in getting to us. They give us preliminary data, but it changes so often you can’t act on it. It is an electronic test. Our state department of education needs to get their act together.”

Mayor Flaggs ‘concerned’

Despite the improvements in some areas, the fallout of the district being ranked as a D for a second straight year has some community leaders concerned about the impact it could have on economic development.

“I am greatly concerned that we have scored a D for two consecutive years,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said. “I am waiting to see the school board’s response. I have great concern for the education system as it relates to the future of trying to increase the population of this city and to develop economic opportunities for this city.

“I am still cautiously optimistic that we can improve and that they are going in the right direction. I think they are going to have to re-evaluate what is on the table. I believe Leader in Me is working, the academy schools and all that is working.”

Diaz supports school district

Pablo Diaz, who oversees the Chamber of Commerce, Port Commission and economic development, said he was encouraged by the scores and the growth that was seen within them.

“Schools outcomes are an important variable for companies making a site location decision as they try to understand the skill level of the workforce in a region,” Diaz said. “VWSD continued to make improvements across the board with most of its schools either showing improvements or maintaining their grades. I feel confident that the district’s continuous improvement will soon be reflected in the quality of our workforce, especially as we start to see the results of the many innovative programs the district is implementing to support better outcomes.”

Diaz also expressed his confidence in Shealy and those leading VWSD.

“As an economic developer with experience working in different communities over the years, I have never seen a more committed team of educators and administrators as the ones I have met in Warren County,” Diaz said. “The Chamber of Commerce and the business community support the school district’s direction and efforts and we are committed to working along with them to continue the positive transformation of our district.”

Vicksburg Junior High and Vicksburg High School were two of the worst performing schools in the district. VJHS received an F grade for the second straight year, the only VWSD school to receive one this year, and Vicksburg High was ranked as the fifth worst high school in the state.

“Our response to the community is we have new leadership in those schools,” Pratt said. “This year, we are working hard to making sure we are working hard to meet the needs of those students. I am really excited about the things that are coming out of those two schools this year in regards to the new principals at those schools.”

The board members are expected to approve detailed instructional plans for every school in the district at its meeting next Thursday with the goal of continuing to build upon the success they had this year and improve the areas that are falling behind.

“We have, it should be finalized for the next board meeting, a projected possible highest score at every building that rolls up into a possible highest score in the district. It is based on achievable goals,” Shealy said. “The difference between me and other districts is I have 88.8 percent free and reduced lunch period. The work we do is much more significant than any of those lucky districts. That is the biggest difference in us. It is not the work we are doing. It is the amount of students we serve and how we have to serve our students. There is a different approach to kids in poverty than kids that are not.”

The school district has made many innovative changes over the last few years including district-wide Leader in Me implementation this year, the creation of career of academies at the two high schools and developing River City Early College, which opened last year, he said. Shealy said those innovations are paying dividends and being recognized statewide.

“The governor of Mississippi, I don’t guess he introduced another city a few miles down the road as the answer for Mississippi’s education,” Shealy said. “They introduced us. Vicksburg, Mississippi, this is what all education should look like in the state.”