The Leflore County School District’s accountability score from the state this year is an F, presenting new challenges to a district that is already under state control.
Given its 2017 scores, Leflore County is now the lowest-scoring of 143 districts in Mississippi.
“Although it is painful to receive F ratings, the district will move forward to overcome its failure by continuing to build student, staff and leadership capacity to be successful,” said Dr. Ilean Richards, the state-appointed interim superintendent of the Leflore County schools, in an email interview.
Richards indicated that the ratings do not truly reflect what the district is accomplishing and went on to say the schools will get the support the need to improve.
Richards’ title has been changed from conservator to interim superintendent through statutory transitions at the Mississippi Department of Education. Also, the Leflore County schools are now classified by the state as a “District of Transformation,” meaning they are overseen and governed by the state.
According to Dr. John Q. Porter, chief of technology and district transformation at MDE, Leflore County is one of two districts under that umbrella at this time. Tunica is the other district, and a third, Aberdeen, was returned to local control this year.
“I was in Leflore last week, I’ve been there twice in the last three weeks, and we knew the scores weren’t looking good,” Porter said.
“We’ve asked the interim superintendent to develop a plan in terms of what we’re seeing in the data and to focus on professional development for her teachers and administrative staff.”
Porter said his team came to Leflore “to see how the district’s being run” and to determine “whether we have the right team in place.”
He characterized last year, the year for which the data resulted in a rating of F, as a “traumatic” year for the district, Richards’ first full year. Richards began work in January 2016, succeeding Robert Strebeck, who had served as conservator since the state took over the district in October 2013.
“Everyone didn’t accept that she was there,” he said. “Some didn’t accept her, there were staffing problems, and we’ve been working on getting the right leadership in place.”
Porter met with Richards’ leadership team and the district’s principals and said he believes she “has a cadre that appear to be the right principals, but we’ll be monitoring that.”
Specifically, the state will go in and look at what’s happening in classrooms, how teachers are using data and if they are proficient in using that data.
When Leflore was first taken over by the state, Porter said, it was not for academic reasons but for violations of accreditation standards. Now, he said, MDE has more accountability for improving academic performance at the district.
Richards’ analysis of the 2017 score is that the district did not exceed last year’s academic growth levels. The growth model for accountability established by MDE requires schools to demonstrate growth over last year’s scores.
“If students’ mastery of content had been a contributing factor, the district’s performance rating may have been different,” Richards said.
Schools and students are grasping what they are expected to know and understand, and in several areas, the data indicate “that our students’ mastery of standards and objectives surpass the state’s overall levels in both ELA and mathematics,” Richards said.
She cited teacher shortages, inexperienced teachers, school leadership and student engagement issues as factors contributing to the F rating.
Of the district’s six schools, its elementary schools saw the largest decline in their accountability status, falling from C’s to F. Richards said that measure is, in part, because those schools showed high growth the year before and did not maintain that level of growth in proficiency in 2017.
“Academic growth accounts for 400 of the total possible 700 points for elementary schools,” she said.
She attributes Amanda Elzy Junior High’s decline to an F from a D to the same factors.
The district’s high schools did better than the elementary schools — particularly Amanda Elzy High School, which moved from a F to a C. Leflore County High School received a D for the second straight year.
“(Elzy’s) growth scores easily surpassed the old scores,” Richards said. “The school also received more points for more student participation in advanced enrollment and dual enrollment classes.”
The Leflore County and Greenwood school districts are expected to merge in 2019.