Vicksburg Warren School District named MDE District of Innovation for 2023-24 school year

Published 12:40 pm Thursday, December 15, 2022

JACKSON – The Mississippi State Board of Education (SBE) has approved plans for the Vicksburg Warren School District to become a District of Innovation and for the Jackson Public School District Middle College to become a School of Innovation for the 2023-24 school year.

“This designation will make it possible to expand on our innovations. We didn’t wait to be named a District of Innovation to do great things, however, this will help us do even more,” VWSD Superintendent Chad Shealy said. “I’m excited about what the future holds for our students and our community.”

Mississippi will have 11 total Districts of Innovation in 2023-24. The other 10 are Booneville School District, Corinth School District, Grenada School District, Gulfport School District, Hinds County School District, Oxford School District, Pascagoula-Gautier School District, Rankin County School District, Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District and Tupelo Public School District. Mississippi will have 19 total Schools of Innovations. The complete list can be viewed at mdek12.org/ese/Schools-of-Innovation.

“I applaud all of these districts and schools for taking the initiative to creatively enhance learning opportunities for students,” said Dr. Kim Benton, state superintendent of education, interim. “As designated Districts and Schools of Innovation, they are creating greater access to rigorous coursework, business/industry partnerships, and engaging learning experiences for students. The MDE looks forward to working with them to foster their innovative efforts.”

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Legislation passed in 2015 allows school districts and schools within a district to apply for District of Innovation or School of Innovation status, which enables the district or school to request exemptions from certain state regulations to improve student achievement. Through the innovative model, districts and schools have flexibility in areas such as seat time and teacher certification to allow for innovative scheduling and instruction.

Districts of Innovation and Schools of Innovation are intended to expand learning choices, implement rigorous standards, reduce achievement gaps, reduce student remediation post-graduation, increase student engagement and increase the number of students who are ready for college and/or career.

The Vicksburg Warren School District’s plan centers around equipping all students from Pre-K through 12th grade for college, career and life. The plan includes innovation to ensure students meet the growing workforce development needs in Vicksburg, Warren County and South-Central Mississippi. Some of the district’s goals are to increase the number of dual credit courses taken by high school students by 3 percent annually, improve average senior composite ACT scores from 16.2 to 18, increase and sustain the district’s graduation rate from 88 percent to 90 percent, increase the number of signed business partners and create a Pathway of Accelerated Learning (PAL) pilot program in upper elementary school(s) to develop the skills necessary to earn the Distinguished Academic Endorsement upon graduation.

Innovative District Director, Curtis Ross, who led the application process said, “This status will provide advantages to all students from Pre-K through graduation and beyond. The next steps include working to educate students and families about the opportunities and benefits available to them. I want to thank the team here at VWSD who spent countless hours preparing the application and contributing to the plan. Their passion to change children’s lives for the better is unsurpassed.”

The plan for the Jackson Public School District Middle College is to create a “grow your own” pipeline of mathematics teachers for the Jackson Public School District by providing a collegiate experience to enhance content knowledge and develop highly effective pedagogy. Some of the goals are to increase the number of college credits for students in groups typically underrepresented in college and develop a partnership with a local college that will foster high levels of collaboration between the school district and collegiate faculty.

Shealy praises district achievements

After the new agenda was adopted during the District’s Board of Trustees Meeting on Thursday, Superintendent Chad Shealy invited Curtis Ross, Innovative District Director for VWSD to speak at the meeting about being recognized by Major Clarity, Inc. The company makes career exploration and academic planning software used by the school district.

This year we have a new career exploration system for our schools to operate to prepare students for college and career readiness,” Ross said. “And I’m very happy to announce that three of our schools in the district have what is called Power User Status. That’s huge.”

The status recognizes the schools that have a high percentage of both initial and returning student engagement in the platform. Three junior high schools in the district received the status.

“They recognize our junior high schools as doing some awesome work within this platform,” Ross added.

Shealy then also mentioned that the district had its “District of Innovation” status reinstated by the Mississippi Department of Education, explaining that VWSD had maintained the status since 2016 but did not retain it in 2021 when it applied that year. According to MDE, currently, fewer than a dozen school districts in the state are considered Districts of Innovation.

“It was great to be recognized for the great work that y’all have been supporting for eight years. But it’s good to have that status back,” Shealy said. “So it increases tremendous options for our high schoolers to take more credits and to get more dual credits, and to graduate college, career and life prepared.”