July 28, 2008 Rotogram

MISSISSIPPI STATE’S CAMPUS TODAY

Jim Jones, Director of Campus Planning and Sustainability, reviews near and long-term plans for the MSU campus today.

NEXT WEEK

Penny Kemp, the MSU Riley Center’s marketing director, will recount the history of the beautifully restored 19th century grand opera house. The center is operated by the MSU Meridian campus as a conference venue, educational facility and theater.

LAST WEEK

Invocation and Pledge: Bill Foster

Attendance: There were 110 members (27 exempt) present, and 89 (30 exempt, 7 honorary) absent.

Attendance makeups: Carey Hardin and Jeff Donald in West Point, Jeff Donald online, and Andy Gaston in Aberdeen.

Guests and Visitors: Members’ guests included Charles Brown and Rick Smith of Brent Fountain, Judy Couey of Frank Chiles, and Kathy Wilson of Omis Avant. Shoshana Brackett of the Starkville Daily News was a guest of the Club.

Club Notes: President Chip Templeton noted recent accomplishments of several Rotarians:

  • Dave Marcum’s daughter Anna will represent Starkville in the Mississippi’s Junior Miss 2008 competition in Meridian on July 26.
  • Omis Avant recently presented area students with two scholarships.

Rotarian  Briar Jones, president of the Starkville Area Arts Council, expressed the organization’s thanks for the Club’s sponsorship of the Chaucer’s Village at the 2008 Cotton District Arts Festival.

President Chip conveyed Paul Cuicchi’s thanks for his Merrill Hawkins Teacher of the Year honor.

The Club was reminded that the first of this year’s two Rotary Youth Exchange students  would arrive on Friday evening. Takatoshi is from Japan.

REFORM AND LIGHTNING ROD ISSUES IN MISSISSIPPI PUBLIC EDUCATION

“Our goal is ‘If you were to scoop a Mississippi school out of the earth and drop it anywhere else in the United States, it still would be a highly rated school.’”
Hank Bounds, Mississippi Superintendent of Education.

Mississippi is in the “best of times and the worst of times” according to Hank Bounds, state superintendent of education.

“In terms of overall progress in student performance, we’re among the top three states,” said Bounds. “ But, we still rank at or near the bottom in most other indicators.

The State Board of Education is setting two very bold goals for the next 5 to 7 years: 1) reach the national average as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress , and 2) reduce the dropout rate by 50 percent.

Bounds’ remarks focused on 5 significant areas of reform.

The first issue is a focus on curriculum. In particular, language arts and mathematics require special attention. To bring the state as near as possible to national standards, Bounds is asking the state board to set higher standards at this month’s meeting.

Using a sports analogy, he noted that raising the high jump bar results in more failures at first, but with practice the athlete improves. Higher standards will be applied to algebra 1, English and reading for measurement in the tenth-grade standardized test.

Current state and national standards diverge widely. By Mississippi standards, 90 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading. By NAEP standards, only 15 percent are proficient. The challenge for the state board is to find a mid-ground between the “Utopian” national standards and the state measures.

“We want to be sure that the right score is on the scoreboard,” said the superintendent.

Bounds’ concern is that “folks who don’t look at this every day will be startled at what will appear to be a drastic drop in performance.” The change will mean there will be no way to compare the new findings with past statistics. This is the third or fourth system in the past couple of decades.

Along with student assessment changes, statewide schools’ accreditation standards are being redefined. The current 1 to 5 rankings will be expanded. Bounds noted that a number of states use a 10-point scale.

Currently, 28 percent of schools have the highest rating of 5, 27 percent perform at a level 4, and less than one percent (11 schools) hold the lowest rank. This too will negate any past and present comparisons.

“The ultimate goal of refining state standards is to ensure that our boys and girls will face the same standards as others across the U.S.” Bounds said. “I want my second-grader and kindergartener to be nationally competitive in 10 to 12 years.”

Complementing the drive to improve student performance is Bounds’ second area of focus — increasing teacher quality and quantity.

“It’s a bit frightening to realize that we need 2500 to 3000 new teachers in our system,” said Bounds. “The legislature was good to us by appropriating $1.2 million more to recruit teachers this year. As we try to ‘grow our own,’ we are recruiting nationally and internationally.”

A blue-ribbon committee has been named to redesign teacher education. Rotarian Richard Blackbourn, MSU Dean of Education, serves on the panel.

The third issue facing Mississippi public education is leadership.

“Thirty years ago you could be a good high school principal by keeping the halls quiet and the bathrooms clean,” said the former principal of Pascagoula, Lumberton and Forrest County High Schools.

Now educational leadership is far more complex. Now the administrator must show results, from the gifted to the special needs child.

One “lightning rod” issue in leadership is the standard set by Senate Bill 2149. This state legislation requires removal of superintendents who cannot show evidence of improvement of underperforming schools within two years of the designation.

The task force on underperforming schools began work the day after Bounds’ addressing the Club.

Bounds’ fourth issue is community engagement in public education. Noting that 90 percent of the state’s students attend public schools, the superintendent, said, “You can’t separate the words ‘public education’ from ‘economic development.’”

The State Department of Education’s “On the Bus” campaign is geared to engage business leaders, community organizations and parents to ensure that boys and girls stay in school until graduation. Superintendents, principals or teachers alone cannot provide a child’s complete education.

Bounds put it succinctly, “You have a choice of buses or plywood. Without an effective educational system, you will have to buy plywood to board up failed businesses in failed communities.”

He stressed that the need to complete high school is much more important than just 10 to 15 years ago because dropouts can no longer get a job that pays a living wage to raise a family. While the need for a college degree has remained relatively stable, the need for a high diploma has grown exponentially in the job market.

Bounds’ final issue deals with the question, “What should high school look like?”  In many ways, he said, the experience is the same as it was 40 years ago.

“I’m not sure an industrial age model works in a 24/7 world,” he mused. “We’ll have to make changes from our traditional August through May 180 day schedule.”

He added that although taking a virtual course would scare him to death, many kids would prefer the online opportunity.

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