- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - In a story Oct. 31 about possible education policy changes, The Associated Press erroneously reported the first name of the Jackson school superintendent. His name is Cedrick Gray, not Cedric.

A corrected version of the story is below:

State policy changes could keep churning Mississippi schools

After 4 years of big changes, Mississippi schools could keep facing churn in state policy


Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Walton Elementary School proclaims that 3200 Bailey Avenue, its location, is the “address of excellence.”

But even as Walton has earned a high grade under Mississippi’s rating system, there’s another address that affects what goes on at the 450-student school.

That’s 400 High Street, the address of the Mississippi state Capitol four miles away.

Walton and Mississippi’s 1,000 other public schools have been affected over the last four years by a number of changes, including requirements that third graders pass a test to advance to the fourth grade, a new A-to-F grading system, and disputes over what schools should teach and what tests they should give.

Mississippi allowed charter schools for the first time, tightened requirements for new teachers and dribbled out some money for state-funded prekindergarten. Lawmakers continued to squabble over how much money should go to K-12 schools and how it should be allocated.

Lawmakers in the next four years could widen vouchers allowing students to attend private schools, expand eligible areas for charter schools, and create a special district to take over low-performing schools. They could also require further district consolidation, and rewrite the state’s funding formula to emphasize efficiency.

Walton Principal Gwen Gardner said she feels her B-rated school has weathered the transitions of the last four years well.

“We’re just in the mindset that change is going to come,” she said.

She credits her school’s success to veteran teachers - it is Gardner’s 30th year working at Walton and 11th as principal. She said experienced teachers were able to adapt to Mississippi’s new Common Core-linked curriculum and to third grade testing, thanks in part to training from the district and community partners.

Superintendent Cedrick Gray, though, said one of the challenges of raising achievement in the Jackson district, D-rated overall, are changes to the grading system, curriculum and state tests.

“It’s difficult to hit the target when it’s proverbially moving,” he said. Gray hopes things are stabilizing, but anger at perceived federal control of Common Core was palpable in Republican legislative primaries, and some lawmakers could again seek changes.

All four charter schools approved for Mississippi so far are in Jackson. If each reaches capacity, they will enroll more than 2,000 students, about 7 percent of district enrollment. Only one rising fifth grader left Walton for a charter school, but some other schools have been harder-hit. Gray worries about lost funding.

“The impact it will have on our bottom line is significant,” he said.

State policymakers are considering plans for an achievement school district to take over struggling schools. Such plans foundered before in Mississippi over loss of local control. Gray questions whether such structures in Tennessee, Louisiana and elsewhere have worked.

“The data says their success is marginal at best,” he said.

Walton, unusually, has no rookie teachers. But Jackson as a whole has been hit by higher test-score and grade requirements for new teachers.

“We have a high need in this state and we need to be teacher-friendly,” Gray said.

Walton has two pre-kindergarten classes that Gardner credits with helping get students off to a strong start. Jackson pays for those classes with federal money. Gray said he’d like to have 76 classrooms district-wide, but can only afford 30. If lawmakers closed the $200 million statewide gap between current funding and what the state’s formula demands, he’d spend Jackson’s share on pre-K.

“Full funding for us would equal well-prepared kindergartners who would not only ace third grade tests but go on to success,” Gray said.


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