Thursday, September 23, 2010
Benton district leaps in levels
By SUE WATSON
The Benton County School District saw its label go from At Risk of Failing to Successful, based upon the huge success of the Hickory Flat School, according to superintendent Patrick Washington.
Hickory Flat, a K-12 school, has 702 students enrolled this year, slightly over half the students in the district. Ashland Mid-High and Elementary have the remainder of the 1,370 students.
Hickory Flat leaped over two labels from At Risk of Failing and Academic Watch landing safely on Successful, which means the school is labelled Successful as well as the district as a whole.
“Jumping two levels of rating was directly due to leadership,” said Washington, praising his new administration and many new principals, as well as the teaching staff.
Leadership from the principals means they know what it is to be an effective teacher, he said.
Ashland Middle School also took a leap this year, increasing its QDI (Quality of Distribution Index) score by 19 points, the largest gain in the district in year 2009, Washington said. A low QDI at the high school brought the Ashland Mid-High down. But the combined score of 125 in 2009 means the school, labelled At Risk of Failing, is just eight points away from moving up to Academic Watch. Ashland Elementary is labelled Academic Watch.
The QDI is an index that ranges from 0-300 and indicates, among other things, the percent of the students in a school who scored proficient or higher on the MCT (Mississippi Curriculum Test) or subject area tests, Washington said. A proficient rating indicates the student has mastered enough of the subject matter and skills to move up to the next grade.
The overall graduation rate for Benton County School District also dipped to 63.4 percent. The average of a 55.9 graduation rate at Ashland and a 70.5 rate at Hickory Flat produced that figure. Once again, Hickory Flat is leading the district.
The graduation rate in the district in the 2007-08 school year was 75 percent, Washington said.
School districts tend to see graduation rates sometimes as more of a tracking issue than true reflection of student accomplishments, he said. This, in part, is because students who transfer during the school year to another school may graduate but are considered a dropout by the state’s reporting system.
By comparison, Holly Springs High School had a 75 percent graduation rate last year and the Marshall County School District had a 61.6 percent graduation rate.
Washington said the per capita income in Benton County is the second lowest in the state meaning that poverty can contribute to student achievement.
“But we are not using that as an excuse,” he said.
The school district will partner with Regions Bank to launch an INVEST initiative this year, Washington said. The goal is to ask parents to open a savings account in their child’s name and try to establish a pattern of savings for the child. Regions will open a savings account for a child with a little as $5, the superintendent said.
There will be an INVEST Day held this fall.
Washington said he hopes to show students that it is better to save money for their future rather than spend $200 on a pair of shoes.
“Those investments are only temporary,” he said. “Our hope through INVEST is to encourage students to think long term.”
The district also seeks to bring parents to the table by holding a parent/student night in the district each year. The gym is packed each time a district meeting is held, he said.
Another initiative is to open a parent/teacher center at the Ashland school where teachers can explain what the school goals are to parents and teach them how to work with their children to help the school meet its goals.
An advisory board was established to collect input from area colleges, banks, businesses, teachers and others who will help the district move forward.
“Our ultimate goal and vision is to build a school system that is a model school district for the nation,” Washington said.
A first-term superintendent, Washington is a graduate of Mississippi State, Union University, and Ole Miss. He is currently working on a doctorate at Ole Miss. He also is a pastor.
Washington grew up in Benton County. He is the youngest superintendent of education ever to serve in Benton County and and the youngest in the state when he was sworn in at age 32. Washington is also the first African American to be elected superintendent in Benton County.
He has pastored at Palestine Missionary Baptist Church in Blue Mountain for the last 10 years.
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