- Petal School District
Petal School District soars to No. 1 in Mississippi
Petal School District soars to No. 1 in Mississippi; Lamar County schools rank seventh
Petal School District has something to brag about. It is the No. 1 district in the state, according to the 2016-17 accountability rankings released by the Mississippi Department of Education Thursday.
The district was one of only 15 districts in the state to achieve a grade of A. It scored 734 points out of 1,000, with its closest competitors 29 points behind.
"I can't say enough about the results," Superintendent Matt Dillon said. "We faced adversity last year. We had a tornado that affected students and staff throughout the district.
"I cannot be more proud of where we're at and where we're going. We worked hard. We're No. 1 because our people make a difference."
Lamar County School District also got an A grade and ranked No. 7 in the state. It earned 688 points.
There were 43 B and 43 C districts in Mississippi, 36 D districts and nine F districts. The accountability grades are based, in part, on how well students perform and progress from year to year on the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program tests for English language arts and mathematics. These tests are aligned to the Mississippi College and Career Ready Standards and are administered each year to students in grades 3-8 and high school.
Dillon said for his district to reach such a high mark, all schools had to be performing at their peak.
"You're seeing success continually," he said. "Our faculty and staff work extremely hard day in and day out to provide high quality educational opportunities for our students. Our student body responds through the relationships with our teachers, and we have great parental and community support."
The accountability system places an emphasis on growth — how much progress students make in English language arts and mathematics from year to year, particularly the lowest-performing 25 percent of students.
For a district like Petal, growth is hard, Dillon said.
"That's the challenge," he said. "It's become increasingly more difficult for Petal to grow because our students are already performing at a high level, but we saw growth in almost every category. We've been able to grow individual students."
The accountability system also factors in how well fifth- and eighth-grade students perform on the science test. Accountability grades for high schools and districts also include the four-year graduation rate, student performance on biology, U.S. history and ACT tests and student participation and performance in Advanced Placement and dual credit/dual enrollment courses.
Tess Smith, Lamar County School District superintendent, said it was satisfying to see her district move from a B to an A this year.
"To regain the A ranking was very important to us," she said in an email. "After all the changes in curriculum and testing, things have finally leveled off, and we achieved success.
"We are very proud of our students and staff. The hard work has paid off for all."
Oak Grove High School was sixth in the state with 832 out of 1,000 points.
"I give full credit to our hard-working teachers," Tess Smith said. "With the support of our board, the district office and school-level principals, our goal is to give each teacher the tools he or she may need to educate and grow our students."
Tess Smith said her teachers will focus on the order and progression of how things are taught, digging deeper into test data to find out how to improve their teaching and working to adjust the test items that are used in the classroom to monitor and teach students.
She said growth will be hard to maintain next year.
"When a student showed growth this year, a district received more points for that student," she said. "So, even if a student is in the highest level this year and maintains that level next year, we will not get those growth points.
"Regardless, we are going to continue to do what we have always done in the district. We will work hard for the students that show up each day. They deserve our very best."
Forrest County Agricultural High School District ranked 23rd in the state, but received a B for the district and school. The previous year the district was ranked A. The district earned 649 points.
Superintendent Donna Boone was pleased with the results.
"I think we did a good job," she said. "I think our kids did well, and our teachers worked hard.
"We did go from an A to a B as a district. We were 19 points short of the cut point (668 for an A)."
Boone said the district lost points in math proficiency and math growth, but changes have been made in that area. Three new math teachers were hired before Boone came on board and administrators have been monitoring their work.
"Those few points we lost this year, we'll regain them," she said.
Boone is striving for an A for the district and for the high school for 2017-18.
"That's the teachers' goal, the principal's goal, the board's goal and my goal," she said. "We all want to be the best. We do that by ensuring our kids are proficient and by growing them."
Forrest County School District also received a B. It scored 605 points. Chief operations officer Gina Gallant said the district is pleased with the grade and got it by growing its students.
"Growth is a gradual increase in knowledge that eventually results in a level of proficiency," she said. "Our goal is always to grow all children.
"Teachers are teaching, and students are learning."
Gallant was especially happy with the performance at Rawls Springs Attendance Center, which had been labeled an "at-risk" school for its F grade in 2015-16. It improved to a B.
"We put a plan in place, and it worked," she said. "Now our goal is to maintain that B."
Earl Travillion Attendance Center had also been graded F. It moved to a D.
"We have a plan for Earl Travillion," Gallant said. "We are looking at putting in after-school tutoring in English language arts and math for all our children."
Gallant had a couple goals for the district.
"We want Earl Travillion to continue to grow, and we're shooting for that next level grade there," she said. "We want to maintain a B for the district and to increase our rate of growth."
Hattiesburg Public School District earned a D and scored 517 points, but Superintendent Robert Williams was feeling encouraged.
"We did see an increase in performance of six out of eight schools," he said in an email. "And the district increased its overall performance by 35 points.
"HPSD has six of its eight schools rated as level C. This marks a significant improvement over the previous year ratings in which one school was an F, four schools were rated D and only three schools were rated C."
Williams pointed out the achievement of Lillie Burney S.T.E.A.M. Academy, which moved from an F to a C and improved by 122 points.
He said the district's goal is for all students to be proficient and/or showing growth.
Lumberton Public School District also received a D and earned 505 points. Superintendent Linda Smith said she was dissatisfied with that performance and emphasized the district improved 21 points.
"We do not believe that is indicative of the work we have done to help students to improve," she said in an email. "Recent changes to the model added uncertainty for administrators, staff and students.
"We are focusing on improving instruction and rigor in both English language arts and math in order to provide teachers the support they need to help students achieve at higher levels."
Smith said Lumberton High School, which earned a B, had targeted 626 points as its goal. It earned 630 points.
"There is still room for growth and the high school team is looking at making progress (this year)," she said.
Smith said the goal is to improve the district by 31 points.
"Our long-term goal is to continue to improve academic performance in both the elementary and high school in order for our students to be competitive and successful in our global society," she said.
Dillon said he expects the Petal School District to improve on its performance as well.
"We're not here to maintain," he said. "We're here to continue to grow and get better. We're always working at ways to grow our students.
"I'm excited about the direction the district is going. The best is yet to come."
At a glance
Points: 1,000 possible for districts, high schools; 700 for middle, elementary schools
Petal School District
District: A, 734 points, No. 1 district in state
Petal High: A, 825 points, No. 9 high school in state
Petal Middle: A, 490 points
Petal Upper Elementary: A, 505, No. 9 middle, elementary school in state
Petal Elementary: B, 418 points
Petal Primary: A, 460 points
Lamar County School District
District: A, 688 points, No. 7 in state
Oak Grove High: A, 832 points, No. 6 high school in state
Sumrall High: A, 744 points
Purvis High: B, 724 points
Sumrall Elementary: A, 479 points
Sumrall Middle: A, 454 points
Longleaf Elementary: B, 441 points
Oak Grove Middle: B, 441 points
Oak Grove Upper: B, 411 points
Purvis Upper: B, 399 points
Oak Grove Primary: B, 397 points
Purvis Middle: B, 396 points
Oak Grove Lower: B, 378 points
Purvis Lower: C, 366 points
Baxterville School: C, 365 points
Forrest County Agricultural High School District
District: B, 649 points
High school: B, 649 points
Forrest County School District
District: B, 605 points
North Forrest High: C, 582 points
Rawls Springs: B, 414 points
South Forrest: B, 391 points
North Forrest Attendance: C, 375 points
Dixie: C, 373 points
Earl Travillion: D, 298 points
Hattiesburg Public School District
District: D, 517 points
Hattiesburg High: C, 562 points
Woodley: C, 362 points
Lillie Burney S.T.E.A.M. Academy: C, 358 points
N.R. Burger: C, 353 points
Hawkins: C, 342 points
Rowan: C, 331 points
Thames: D, 317 points
Grace Christian: D, 293 points
Lumberton Public School District
District: D, 505 points
Lumberton High: B, 630 points
Lumberton Elementary: D, 275 points