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December 26, 2013 9:16:10 AM
The Columbus Municipal School District is moving forward with a new strategic plan.
The school board approved the plan earlier this month. It is set to take effect when school resumes in January. With six specific goals, the plan is designed to make the district more effective, said interim superintendent Edna McGill.
"The Columbus Municipal School District's Strategic plan is designed to provide a focus and guidance in six of the most critical areas for this district," McGill said. "It was developed with input from numerous stakeholders and represents the desire of the stakeholders to have the district provide the best educational organization possible for our students and community."
Goal one of the plan states that all students will read on their grade level by the end of 2016. Commonly referred to as "the reading gate," if third-grade students cannot read on their level, they will not be promoted to the next grade.
"Each of the six goals was selected based on need, state and legislative mandates, best practice and or Mississippi Public School Accountability Standards," McGill said. "For example, goal one is designed to support Senate Bill 2347, Literacy Based Promotion Act, which requires districts to have students reading on grade level by the end of third grade. This goal is one I'm very excited about because it helps us focus on those early years when children are learning to read and causes us to explore best practices for reaching that goal. After third grade, children must read to learn in every subject, so reading is a skill that must be mastered as early as possible."
Goal two of the plan is to increase student achievement. McGill said the goal ties into Common Core, a new statewide way of learning and testing students.
"It is designed to help us meet the very stringent standards set forth by the Mississippi State and Federal Combined Accountability Model, which goes into effect in May," she said. "This goal encompasses some of the most challenging tasks we face in education. Using data to drive instruction, common assessments, monitoring instructional practices, providing high quality professional development, having all students show growth and achieve at high levels, and increasing the graduation rate are a few of the challenges we face."
McGill said she and fellow educators are concerned with the district's graduation rate. Currently, the rate is 70 percent.
"We are really taking a hard look at the graduation rate and ways we can help students exit high school ready to go to work or go to college. Mississippi Department of Education is in the process of approving a variety of ways students can graduate and we are looking at being on the forefront of capitalizing on those approved methods of graduation," she said. "This is an area in which we are really working hard and have some plans that are beginning to take shape."
With goal three, the district plans to recruit new teachers and retain their current teachers. McGill said recruiting and retaining teachers is vital to the district.
"Our teachers are our lifeline," McGill said. "If we can't have excellent teachers who are very well trained and who are supported in every way, we have a much more difficult time of meeting all of the other goals."
McGill said by focusing on professional development and continuing education, the district can operate in a supportive role. "We realize teachers come to us with a degree, but actually supporting them once they get in the classroom with effective professional development, resources, and funding is critical," she said.
Fiscal responsibility and transparency is goal Four of the strategic plan, which includes posting the district's monthly budget report online and holding annual meetings with stakeholders. McGill said the district must learn to do more with less while being "good stewards of taxpayer dollars."
"Goal four deals with the budget and financial system and is always challenging," she said. "While we must be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars, we also must provide for all facets of the educational system. More and more demands are made on the educational system and we must make our dollars meet those demands, even those unfunded mandates. "
School safety and grounds and building upkeep are the focus of goal five.
McGill said, "Goal five is designed to guide and direct our efforts at keeping students safe, keeping the disciplinary systems effective, and the building and grounds well maintained."
To help ensure student safety, the district is implementing a new program called Positive Behavior Intervention and Support. The program will focus on rewarding good behavior in students.
"Student safety is always a priority and we have added additional School Resource Officers to help address that area," McGill said. "We are implementing Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) to assist with a more positive way of promoting appropriate behavior and communicating expectations."
The final goal addresses state and district policy.
"Goal six focuses on the district's policies and on the Mississippi Public School Accountability Standards," McGill said. "Our practices must reflect our policies, which must be updated and communicated to our staff and stakeholders. The Mississippi Public School Accountability Standards provide us with the standards required by MDE to maintain state accreditation. These are not optional, so it is critical that we adhere to them."
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah
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