Thursday, November 3, 2005

Bounds strives to accelerate learning
• State superintendent visits

Staff Writer

Dr. Hank Bounds, state superintendent of education, came to Marshall County last week with a focus on lifting student achievement.

He was guest speaker at the Northwest Mississippi Superintendents’ Association meeting, hosted in Byhalia by the Marshall County and the Holly Springs school districts.

Bounds was appointed to head the state department of education in August following the appointment of the former state superintendent to the U.S. Department of Education.

He was introduced by Milton Kuykendall, superintendent of DeSoto County School District, who called Bounds “proactive, positive and a leader.”

Bounds provided an update on the school districts affected by Hurricane Katrina, outlined important issues education K-12 faces, and presented a roadmap, or his vision, for education.

Sixteen schools were entirely destroyed, 24 severely damaged, and 159 school buses were lost to the storm, he said. And millions in textbooks, teaching materials and technical equipment were destroyed bringing the price of destruction to about $800 million to the state school system, he said.

Federal assistance for districts accepting displaced or disabled students has not been forthcoming, Bounds said, but when it does the dollars will go straight to the school districts from the state without lots of red tape.

All schools on the coast except two have reopened with the district in Waveland and one other scheduled to reopen in November.

Bounds said the communities did a remarkable job of getting students back to class considering the level of devastation.

“From personal experience, I saw neighbor helping neighbor and an unbelievable attitude and resilience,” Bounds said of those who put their hands to work immediately after the storm.

He said he is proud of how Mississippians responded to the crisis and appreciative of the help that came from as far away as Beverly Hills and New York.

He presented a snapshot of student performance from the Nation’s Report Card, which he said provides great statistics for Mississippi school districts but does not show the very reality of deficiencies.

Although fourth and eighth grades in the state overall ranked high in math, and reading scores were level, the state still is very near the bottom in educating its students, he said.

“We are quickly closing the achievement gap, and while making progress, we still have about 40 percent of students who do not graduate from high school,” he said. “I would like to say it’s a data problem, but I’ve turned it inside out and it is not. We should be bold enough to say it and willing to do something about it.”

The problem with inadequate preparation of the young affects the ability of the state to attract new industry and business, according to a report from Momentum Mississippi, he said.

“Across the board, businesses say the education system would not let them thrive,” he said. “How do you change this perception? You change the perception by changing the reality.”

He said most dropouts are good kids who for some reason do not connect with the schools.

“We have to do something about the dropout rate,” he said.

Bounds is setting goals to cut the dropout rate by 50 percent in five years and to reach the national average in terms of achievement in seven years.

“We have to move with a sense of urgency and to think of how to design schools based on some business principals,” he said. “School principals must put controls in place for every controllable variable, so controllable variables are the ones we work on.”

Five variables Bounds thinks can be controlled are to establish a rigorous curriculum and assessment process and build a curriculum that also focuses on workforce development; ramp up efforts to recruit and train quality teachers within the state, nation, and worldwide, in every classroom; provide leadership training for school administrators; devise a public relations strategy to get the state’s message out through public service announcements; and provide better service at the state office of education.

Bounds said he wants the state department of education to return calls the day they are received and give his staff 24 hours to help solve problems in school districts.

Leadership training will be provided by the Institutions of Higher Learning and an office of professional development will open this week.

We can’t let financial problems keep us from moving forward, he said.

He urged school board members to understand the difference in the roles of the board and the superintendent’s role. Board members should set policy, be supporters and set the bar very, very high, he said.

“Together, we can reach these over-arching goals,” Bounds said.

He praised Byhalia’s a’cappella choir, saying it is the best choir he has seen in the state school system.

Don Randolph, Marshall County School District superintendent, said the Association was very lucky to have Bounds up to speak to educators.

“We are honored to have Dr. Bounds visit Marshall County,” he said. “We are anxious to follow the procedures Dr. Bounds presents to us to raise student achievement levels in Marshall County Schools.”

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