The Carroll County School District Board of Directors discussed ways to improve test scores of its middle and high school students at J.Z. George High School. Currently, the middle school holds a grade of F from the Mississippi Department of Education and the high school holds a grade of D.
Board members discussed several ideas to improve scores, from splitting the school into two separate schools with two separate principals, to hiring a new assistant principal to assist the principal with administration, to incentives for students and teachers, to taking money from athletic programs and directing it into the classrooms.
Newly-sworn-in board member John L. Phillips, who retired from education after 32 years, shared his experiences as a tutor to students at Marshall Elementary School, explaining that kids still need to be kids and more test taking isn’t the answer.
Phillips told the board, “You ever heard the saying ‘All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy?’ We are testing those poor kids to death.”
Phillips added, “It all starts at home, and it’s going to take more of our men to step up to the plate for them young men out here.”
Phillips offered some sage advice.
I realize that Mississippi public schools follow the Common Core Curriculum, regardless of its new name, and that curriculum involves some interesting reasoning strategies. But isn’t math, math, and reading, well, reading? (I’m sure all of my public school teacher friends are shouting at me – or applauding me -- about now.) Teach students math. Teach students to read and comprehend what is read. If students master math and reading skills, shouldn’t they pass state tests?
The endless pressure of performing on standardized tests has to bring added pressure on young students. I remember hearing I needed to purchase a scantron card for a test in college (a standardized test), and I would become panicked. I am much better at an essay test. If I was panicked as a college student, what is going through the mind of a third grader?
Also, with the amount of information expected to be taught and comprehended and put to memory each school year, our teachers need help at home. Without support in the home, a student’s odds of being successful are significantly lessened. With so many one-parent families balancing jobs, school, and other pressures in life, concerned members of the community like Phillips to mentor and tutor our young people are necessary. The old adage “it takes a village” is very true.
As for my two-cents on the other ideas floated, a few years ago, the school board voted – at Superintendent Billy Joe Ferguson’s recommendation – to merge George Middle and J.Z. George High School into one school with one principal. The motivation behind the decision was to save money by decreasing administration costs. Financial prudence is something several board members have pressed for years, and there were no issues raised when the schools were joined back then.
I don’t believe splitting the schools into two entities once again, with separate principals and administrative staff, will raise test scores. Yes, Principal Coretta Green should have an assistant principal, as she should have from the start, to share the administrative load, especially with daily operations and student discipline. Green should be allowed to spend her time on her top priorities – staff development, staff mentoring, remedial programs, and other means to improve instruction for students to suit their individual needs.
As for eliminating assistant football coaches to improve instruction? If there is somewhere the district can use that money to guarantee an improvement in scores, by all means look into it. However, cutting assistant coaches for the Jaguars seems like the board is punishing not only the students but the alumni and the community that cheer on the Jags every Friday night. School spirit is itself a motivating factor, whether the team wins on Friday or not. The board should do everything it can to build that Jaguar pride, for its current students and the generations of students to come.
A strong athletic department and extracurricular opportunities not only provide students recreational and fitness opportunities, but it allows students to develop skills that can possibly get them college scholarships in athletics, band, and the arts.
Now, student incentives worked wonderfully at Winona Secondary School. Then Principal Charlie Parkerson rewarded students based on a student’s individual growth on test scores. Students were placed in the Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum categories, with rewards based on the group. Those rewards ranged from Walmart gift cards, pizza parties, and even a trip to the movies. Of the 240 students tested, 198 students showed growth and received incentives.
I applaud the Carroll County School Board for proactively looking at ways to improve test scores. Educating Carroll County’s students is what is most important. I encourage them to take a positive, community-wide approach and lead by example.