North Pike Superintendent Dennis Penton said the district is proud of its two straight B ratings from the state but predicted, “We will be an A. It’s just how soon we will be an A.”
Penton, who spoke Wednesday to the McComb Rotary Club, added, “Us being able to employ high-quality, motivated, dedicated teachers is the key to that success. Being a B district is extremely important to us. It’s a point of pride, but it isn’t our end. We are targeting being an A district in the next two years, and that’s our goal.”
He said one of the challenges of continued improvement in the state accountability ratings system is that it’s harder to improve the academic performance of older students. Another challenge is that North Pike has a lot of students whose test scores are a 3 rating on the state’s scale of 1 to 5, and must get more of them “over the hump” to the 4 and 5 levels — proficient and advanced — to take aim at an A rating for the district.
Penton, who is in his sixth year at North Pike, also said that while teachers are in their profession for more than just money, they deserve better pay from the state.
The winners of last year’s elections, Gov. Tate Reeves and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, were among the candidates who said Mississippi should pay teachers more. Last October, Reeves proposed raising the starting pay for teachers to the Southern average of nearly $36,000 in two years, and raising average pay for all teachers to the Southern mark of $47,000 in four years.
“They don’t get paid enough for what they do,” Penton said, adding that campaign proposals for teacher pay raises aren’t enough and that the state should consider individual incentive bonuses for high-performing teachers.
He also said recruiting highly qualified teachers is North Pike’s No. 1 challenge. School superintendents want the Legislature to consider bills that would encourage more people to become teachers.
The rising cost of a college education can turn students away from teaching because of the job’s comparatively low pay.
This is especially true for those who must repay student loans, but Penton said they are overlooking the fact that public education is a good job with excellent employment and retirement benefits.
On other topics, Penton said:
• The $11 million bond issue that North Pike voters approved three years ago has been put to good use. The district moved fourth graders from the elementary school and fifth graders from the middle school into a new $7.5 million building on the elementary campus.
“It is the first complete new school we’ve had since the 1960s,” he said.
The high school added four new classrooms and greatly expanded its band hall for its popular music program, while the existing elementary building got several security upgrades, and its office got relocated to the front of the campus. The middle school gym will get an air conditioning and heating system this year, and there will be enough money left over from the bond issue for improvements to the road leading to the front of the elementary school.
• North Pike, like all rural districts, will continue to face the challenge of long-term funding. “The trend that has been taking place for my 20 years as a superintendent is the source of funding is shifting from the state level. Local funding has had to be beefed up to fill those gaps.”
• The number of North Pike students in families below the poverty level is rising. “Children that come from low socioeconomic families face different challenges,” he said. “As our demographics change, we have to change how we approach providing an education for these students. It sounds simple, but everything pretty much has to change.”