Miss. Dept. of Education eyes expanded outreach

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi Department of Education appears ready to add 27 contract employees to help local schools improve teaching.

The state Board of Education discussed the $2.8 million initiative at its work session Thursday and is likely to vote to approve it Friday.

Observers including a legislative watchdog committee have noted that the state department traditionally has been more of regulator than a direct participant in efforts to improve education. Today, only two curriculum specialists provide training to Mississippi’s 151 school districts.

“We’ve recognized a real need to expand the number of bodies that provide those services across the state,” state Superintendent Carey Wright told the board Thursday.

In 2012, the Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review issued a report critical of the state’s failure to provide aid.

“While staffing improvements have been made in the area of instruction, PEER determined that only 1 percent of positions at MDE are specifically tasked with improving classroom instruction in all of the state’s school districts,” the report stated. “Because MDE has allocated the majority of its resources to other areas, MDE has limited its own impact in the priority area of improved instruction, particularly the deep level of implementation necessary for increased student learning to occur.”

Benton said the state took the PEER report into account when designing the new program.

Chief Deputy State Superintendent Kim Benton said the effort will focus on literacy, math, language arts and early childhood learning. She said the focus on math and language arts will help districts make the switch to the Common Core state standards.

“We wanted to be able to support the transition to the new courses,” Benton said, referring to the state’s recent adoption of new course descriptions.

Board member Charles McClelland of Jackson said again Thursday that he’s heard from schools that are worried about making the switch to Common Core from the current state curriculum.

“Those districts are telling me they’re still not ready,” he said. “Will this consortium work on getting them ready?”

“Absolutely, that’s what we’re trying to do is meet their needs,” Benton said.

Associate Superintendent Trecina Green said the state department receives phone calls seeking assistance “all the time.”

Green said the workers will provide short-term training at no cost to districts.

“We will actively come up with a menu of services and supports for districts,” she said.

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