- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

MCCOMB, Miss. (AP) - In a quest to vault the McComb School District into one of a leadership role for others to follow, Summit Elementary School will open next year as the district’s first student-centered learning school.

On Aug. 1, 2015, an expected 250 students in grades K-4 will attend classes in the first step toward transforming the school district into a world-class model.

Most recently the school housed the district’s Adolescent Opportunity Program, or alternative school. It hasn’t been used for elementary education for about 25 years.

Superintendent Cederick Ellis was tasked a little more than a year ago with taking over a district that in 1972 was designated among National Model Schools but has since seen its student performance, attendance, graduation rates erode.

Ellis said Summit Elementary will have 10 classes of students, two from each grade K-4. A lottery process for who will get to attend will begin in January, with the selection made in early April. An independent third-party will randomly select names from a pool of all applicants to fill each grade level. No priority will be given to any applicant except returning students.

“We won’t stock the school with highly educated kids. It will be random,”?Ellis said. “With low- to high-performing students and those with disabilities. This will not be a special school. At some point, it will be what the entire district will look like,”?he said.

He expects students to jump 1-1?2 to two grade levels per year.

“That’s growth. …?The data will determine the success,”?Ellis said.

Trustees, in a recent special meeting, approved Phase 1 of the school district’s four-year strategic plan.

The plan contains five components - a core of exemplary teachers; curriculum, pedagogy and delivery systems; developing model schools; access to technology; and alignment with higher education.

To parallel those goals, the district has a new mission statement: “To become a premier, world-class school system where student success is inevitable and each student is cultivated to become a fierce competitor in a global society.”

Ellis said, “I’m committed to staying the course. I want to thank this board for having the courage to even entertain the idea to do something different.”

The students at Summit will be chosen in a random, computerized lottery-type process. They’ll attend school for 9-1?2 hours each day for 207 days each year. Students now must attend 180 days of school per year.

The 207-day school year is more closely aligned with school calendar years used by nations that have high-performing schools. And better performance is the ultimate goal of the district.

Although student selection will be by a lottery-type process, parents must complete and submit a formal application for their child to attend. Parents of students with disabilities also are welcome to apply.

The application process concerned some board members, who worried that not enough parents would know about it or that they would need help with paperwork.

Not to worry,?Ellis said. The district fully understands that some of the students who may benefit the most from such a new learning environment come from homes with parents or guardians who may not be able, for a number of reasons, to follow through with the application.

Ellis said that with community outreach, efforts of the school district through messages to parents and physically going into neighborhoods, all parents will be given the opportunity to apply. And those parents will be expected to be active participants in their children’s learning.

Ellis knows it’s a huge step to take on a new teaching process, so the district will roll out the plan incrementally. It’s still very much a work in progress.

“Our goal is to start very small,”?Ellis said of the plans for beginning with a limited number of K-4 students.

Any administrator may apply for the principal’s job at Summit and any teacher with proper certification may apply for the pilot program, Ellis said.

He said interest has been running high among staff members, although he acknowledged that many not be aware of all the details. Still, he’s confident that he’ll have more than enough applicants from which to choose.

“Teachers will be the ones who have the passion,”?he said, adding that they’ll be compensated accordingly.

The student-centered learning concept is a more radical approach, but Ellis and his team are confident that it will work. The worst risk, they believe, is not trying something new.

Ellis and several other McComb administrators witnessed the results in a visit earlier in the year to inner-city schools in Detroit, one of the hardest-hit cities in the economic downturn. What they saw opened their eyes to possibilities in McComb.

“With student-centered learning, we will meet students where they are, not where they should be,”?Ellis said.

For continuous student growth, the district will do away with “academic pathways for student progression based solely on chronological age and predicated on the amount of time students sit in a seat.”

Curriculum will be based on instructional levels, not traditional grade levels. Students must master requisite skills at one instructional level before going to the next, allowing for time and technological resources to do just that.

Summit Elementary will be immersed in technology, with a science, technology, engineering and mathematics - or STEM - basis.

“We think parents want something different.?We will explain it so that it’s crystal clear what we’re doing,” Ellis said.

The project is expected to cost nearly $1.1 million, including iPads for students and other equipment needs at Kennedy Early Childhood Center, totaling $99,100.

Otken Elementary School’s technology expenses are covered by an Apple Connect Ed Grant, which will provide devices for all teachers and students.

The real costs will come at Summit Elementary. Remodeling and upgrade costs are expected to be $278,553; technology and infrastructure needs at $349,254; and another $166,000 in furniture and equipment.

Existing positions will be used for the principal, 10 teachers, counselor, media/data specialist, academic coach, nurse, secretary and bus driver. Curriculum costs are projected at $70,000, and playground equipment at $15,000.?

Funding will come from 21st Century Grant and Title I money, along with $1.1 million in 16th Section funds that the district may use.

“We’ve got the money and this is the perfect project to use it for,”?said district finance officer Cathy Jones. “This will not affect anybody’s budget.”

___

Information from: Enterprise-Journal, https://www.enterprise-journal.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide