Thursday, November 1, 2007
Walton: schools ‘making strides’
By BARRY BURLESON
The Holly Springs School District has its goal in place, and superintendent of education Irene Walton is confident when it comes to reaching it.
“Ultimately, our goal, our vision is a Level 5 school district,” said Walton, herself a product of the district. “I believe in the students of this district, and I believe we can make that goal.”
She was the guest speaker October 17 when the Holly Springs Rotary Club met at Rust College in the Beckley Conference Center.
Schools in Mississippi are ranked based on state test scores, with Level 5 being the best. Plus, school districts are also faced with federal standards as part of “No Child Left Behind.”
“On the surface, we’re a struggling district, a Level 2, but you have to go beneath the surface,” said Walton, who was named superintendent in January 2006. “The Holly Springs School District is making improvements.”
Level 1 is low performing, Level 2 under performing, Level 3 successful, Level 4 exemplary and Level 5 superior.
She said one school in the district is a 2.9, which is an increase from the year before, and the others are around 2.5.
“We know with some pushing, we can make it to Level 3 and higher,” Walton said.
The district is focusing on a five-step process to reach Level 5.
Atop the list is student achievement.
“We saw some significant gains in some areas (of state testing), but we know there are areas where we must have improvement,” Walton said. “We’re getting closer and closer every year.”
She said the district is looking at the instruction it offers – monitoring classes and teachers. Plus it’s looking at the various programs it offers.
“Our staff members understand if they’re not doing what they should do, there are serious consequences,” Walton said.
“We’re visiting other schools with similar demographics. We’re finding that a lot of things we’re doing right, but we’re also learning new things.”
Tackling the high dropout rate is a must.
She said the Holly Springs School District has a 53 percent graduation rate.
“We’re looking at different avenues to help keep our children in school,” Walton said. “This affects the school and the community in a major way.
“We must motivate our kids on a career path. We must challenge them at home and at school.”
A second step in the improvement plan is getting more parent-community involvement. The purpose is to give parents and community members an organized system for participating in and taking ownership of the school district.
“It will be in all of our best interest to support the public school system,” Walton said. “We must all come together in this effort.”
Volunteers can help in lots of areas – including mentoring, tutoring, school beautification, uniform donations, academic program sponsorship, serving on an advisory committee.
“We can’t make it without volunteers – our parents and those in our community,” she said.
A third step in the five-step process is educating students for the 21st century.
“Our children have access to everything,” she said. “Learning is not confined to the classroom.”
Distance learning is available – interaction with teachers and students in other cities, states and countries. Technology is ever-changing, she said, and that means education, too, is ever-chaging. She said sixth and seventh graders will soon be receiving laptops.
A fourth step is recruiting quality teachers and administrators.
“We know good teachers can make a world of difference,” Walton said.
She said a recruitment plan is in place and includes non-traditional methods, such as targeting quality students within the Holly Springs School District itself and urging them to select the education field.
A fifth step in attaining the district’s goal of a Level 5 is strategic planning.
“We’re in the process of putting together a five-year plan, which involves a lot of small plans,” she said. “We’re very interested in involving anyone who would like to work with us.”
She emphasized that the children of Holly Springs “belong to all of us.”
“We’re not in school improvement and we’re not in jeopardy of being taken over (by the state),” Walton said. “We’re making strides.
“I love the Holly Springs School District, and I’m dedicated to making a difference in Holly Springs.”
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