November 14, 2012 4:52:13 PM
Although Oktibbeha County School District's athletic teams will have to sit out post-season play until August, seniors who were on track to graduate in May will be able to receive an accredited diploma as long as they pass their final subject area tests, despite the district's recent takeover by the state department of education.
But that does not mean OCSD is out of the woods. According to Jayne Sargent, the state-appointed conservator for the district, the only way out is through academics.
Sargent, along with assistant superintendent Kathi Wilson and county supervisor Joe Williams, addressed a crowd of nearly 60 parents, teachers, administrators and students Tuesday night in the gymnasium of East Oktibbeha County High School.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss post-season athletics and accreditation, but Sargent also used it as an opportunity to encourage parents, teachers and students to come together to remedy problems she said are bigger than any one of those groups.
The numbers confirm this.
Schools in Mississippi must meet 37 accountability standards. When the Mississippi Department of Education examined 30 of those standards, they found the district deficient in all but one area, leading to the takeover.
Poor student performance is a major component of the challenges the district faces.
Of 31 seniors in the class of 2013, only 19 have passed all subject area tests, which Wilson said is unacceptable.
"That means 12 -- 12 seniors, 12 of our children -- right now, today, could not get a diploma," she said.
Passing the subject area tests is the first step toward mending the district's academic issues, Sargent said, and she believes the best place to start is by beginning to teach more challenging, college preparatory courses at an earlier age.
"We have got to start looking at getting as many children as possible to take Algebra I in the eighth grade," Sargent said. "We would get more teachers if there were more students to take it. We are constantly in contact with MSU about recent grads (who could teach the course)."
Sargent said college preparatory courses also impact ACT scores, which are a critical factor in college admissions, as well as financial aid and scholarship packages.
Sargent could not say how long state control of the district may last, but she said she does not expect it to last forever, which was less than comforting to the crowd. Districts can be re-evaluated twice a year, in January and August.
"For us to say this ends in a year or this ends in two years -- we just can't do that," Sargent said. "But it takes the children, teachers and parents really putting in effort from all sides."
Williams echoed Sargent, urging parents to maintain a high level of involvement in student academics.
"Know what classes your kids are taking," he said. "And know which ones matter the most."