By J. Lynn West
New Albany Elementary School pulled out all the stops to welcome State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright Nov. 4, but it was actually the students who were the stars of the program.
That’s because the city schools earned its first “A” rating for the district and Wright was visiting each “A” school as part of what is called the “Celebration of Excellence Tour.”
The Union County School District received a similar visit earlier in the day for their “A” rating, which is the fourth time for that district.
Wright congratulated students and staff, noting that “We have 145 districts in the State of Mississippi and you are one of only 31 who earned ‘A’s.” That’s more than double the previous rate and A-rated individual schools have increased from 88 to 196. “That speaks volumes about what you have done,” she added.
“It also sends a very powerful message to the community and to the business people in the community,” she said. “It tells them that the schools in New Albany are among the finest schools that Mississippi has to offer.”
“That’s very important because when you get a good education there are no doors that will ever be closed to you,” she said. “It will allow you to do anything that you dream.”
“Districts don’t get assigned grades. Districts earn grades,” she explained. “There are a lot of things we look at as a department. We see how well our children are excelling in English language arts, math, science, history. We also take a look at every single one of your scores.”
They also look at growth and improvement in graduation rates. “And since this includes all students we take a look at how you are helping students that are struggling. And on the other hand how are you providing advanced courser work that some children need,” she said.
“Districts that earned an A have excelled in every single area,” she added.
As to what is common among high-rated schools, Wright said she sees high expectations and laser-like focus on what is happening in the classroom. “I see schools using data to make the classroom experience even more profound. But most importantly, I see communities that are supporting district like no other,” she said, adding that the large group present for the ceremony was evidence of that support.
“When you come together in a partnership there is absolutely nothing you can’t accomplish,” she said.
She cited the district’s five-year strategic plan, noting it has high expectations, and the successful passage of the bond issue for school renovation, having a district-wide one-to-one iPad initiative, juniors and seniors intern project, middle school science scores ranking number four in the state and having a champion tennis team as other indications of excellence.
“You as students are changing the history of education in Mississippi,” she said. “We have never had achievements this high in our state – ever.”
Wright also talked about The National Assessment of Education Progress test results. “Everybody refers to it as the nation’s report card,” she said. “It’s the only test that is administered to students in all 50 states in fourth grade and in eighth grade and in reading and in math. State superintendents don’t have anything to do with it. I get a letter, they come in, it’s a random test.”
When the results came out, nationally it was not good, Wright said. “Nationally scores dropped. However that was not the case in Mississippi,” she said. “When our results were released, Mississippi’s eighth-graders made more progress on reading and math than almost any state in the nation. Mississippi’s eighth graders ranked third in the nations for their gains in mathematics and fourth in the nation for their grades in reading.”
Fourth grade results were even more phenomenal, she said. “Fourth grade reading gains ranked Mississippi number one in the nation,” she said. “Our fourth grade scores were higher than the national average for the first time ever.”
“We need to tell New Albany’s story,” Wright said. “We are no longer at the bottom. When everybody else went down, Mississippi was the only state in the nation that had gains in three out of the four areas that we were assessed.”
“It’s district like New Albany that make this happen,” she concluded.
New Albany Superintendent Dr. Lance Evans, who introduced Wright, accepted the award.
The ceremony was held at the elementary school’s new student plaza and included a pep rally by cheerleaders, presentation of colors by the JROTC, national anthem by high school musical cast members , a song by the fourth grade class and music by the Pride of New Albany Marching Band and Color Guard – most of which were recognized for special awards.city school, excellence, honors, New Albany, state superintendent, test cores, Union County