Thursday, March 18, 2010
City schools stress positive
By SUE WATSON
There is a new wave of enthusiasm flowing through the Holly Springs School District. Its message – awaken the power of wisdom and positive thinking.
The district recently held its annual community forum and all leaders in the school district are singing the same mantra – accentuate the positive.
“It is important to us that we are of the same mind, a positive mind,” said Fergenia Hood, vice president of the school board. “We’ve tried negative thinking and our test scores have not increased. So, we are promoting positive thinking through praise, positive comments, positive feedback and positive actions. We value your input and accept constructive criticism.”
All principals who spoke at the forum said their schools have an open door policy to the community.
“A school cannot succeed in a community not well-positioned for the future growth and success of its students,” Hood said.
Some highlights of the conversation at the forum follow.
Vikki Marion said the intermediate school is teaching abstinence from sex, drugs and alcohol. A cultural program provides exposure of students to New York by way of student tours of Broadway plays, and the city’s restaurants, and the Statue of Liberty. Another trip is planned this year. Coming up this spring is an obesity clinic for children and a school beautification day and cleanup which includes community members and parents.
Principal Joseph Stone at the primary school spoke tenderly of “the little school down at the dead-end of Maury.”
The school’s motto is “committed to excellence for all students.” This year 373 students attend the little school. Stone expressed gratitude for community support from individuals, some of the banks and the clinics, and stores.
“The total development of the children is what is valued,” Stone said.
The intermediate school’s mission is to bridge and enhance educational achievement in order for students to compete in a global community. Principal Debbie Jeffries said community stakeholders are vital to the success of the students.
Principal Louise Sanders-Tate at the junior high said her school’s mission is to gradually increase academic achievement through quality instruction. Her dream is for the junior high to become a star school.
“We have a mission right here in Holly Springs, grades seven and eight - the stormy years,” she said.
Although the school is rated as a failed school, the test scores increased at the school last year by a propitious 26 points. Tate said the school has a long way to go but it is restructuring to become a successful school.
“We are working really hard at the Holly Springs Junior High to give the community what they deserve - their children having the best education they deserve,” she said.
At the high school, principal Cedric Richardson said the mission is “to offer a high quality education to all students.”
He cited many positives at the school, beginning with the star basketball team, and moving to the school dance team, improvements in ACT scores, new AP college prep courses, a robotics team, new iPods and student peer tutoring and much more.
“With a lot of positive things going on, the district is moving forward during a trying time in the state of Mississippi,” he said. “We are together.”
Russell Johnson, head of the career technical center, said the center’s mission is to prepare students to compete in a global society by providing career and technical education. The vocational staff is promoting student success through club involvement and competition at district, state and national levels.
In a state of the school district address, superintendent Irene Walton presented an overview of where the district is and its vision for the future.
“I’m loving this positive stuff because I’ve heard some positive things today,” she said as she thanked community leaders for attending the forum.
“No longer can we sit back and say it is not about us,” she said. “Our destinies are so entwined, everybody has a part to play in our children’s lives and they will support us as adults.”
Walton said if the community business leaders support the students, the students will return the favor to business when they become adults.
“The students will be the future of the banks,” she said, noting the presence of Charles King with the Bank of Holly Springs. “We are the future of Holly Springs. Anyone who does not invest in their future - there is something wrong.”
Walton said while focusing on the positives in the school district, the district is also realistic about its rankings and the work ahead.
“Everybody in Holly Springs has got to understand these children are going to play a role - positive or negative,” she said. “Our job is to make sure it is a positive role until we have some people believing and trusting that our children are destined for greatness. How can we help? Say, ‘our children.’”
Community involvement and support is the solution to improving student achievement, Walton said.
“We cannot do it alone,” she said.
Walton believes the district should aim for star school status and temper it with a step-wise approach to getting there. The steps are included in the school district’s strategic plan which is used as a tool to focus the effort on goals outlined in the plan.
Those five goals include increasing the graduation rate incrementally each year, increasing parental involvement, providing a safe and orderly school environment, attracting and retaining quality staff, and transforming instructional practices.
Walton said the state has realized that the curriculum was not rigorous enough and is upgrading its test instruments to reflect a new accountability model for students and teachers.
“We are moving and growing and it will take hard work, heart work and it’s going to take teamwork,” Walton said in closing. “This is our school district, our school system, our babies. This is not a one-time affair.”
The community can support the schools short-term by coming to read to the students (modeling) and providing treats as incentives for students, she said. She asked for long-term support through volunteering.
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