Mayor Quordiniah Lockley and Denman Junior High School principal James Brown made the most insightful comments about last Monday’s occasionally contentious meeting between the McComb city board and the school board.
Two selectmen at the meeting, Ronnie Brock and Devante Johnson, asked superintendent Dr. Cederick Ellis why the district still has a D rating after five years of his leadership.
It was a fair question, and the honest answer is that improving academic performance is taking longer than expected. Even the student-centered learning program, which keeps expanding each year, is not yet making a significant difference in the ratings.
Johnson thinks five years is enough, and said the school board ought to ask Ellis to resign. That’s the easy way out — fire the coach whose team isn’t winning. Except this isn’t a ballgame that lasts a couple of hours; it is a marathon of classroom work that will last for years.
Lockley, to his credit, disagrees with Johnson. The mayor is looking at the big picture. If the school board makes a leadership change, it will take the better part of a year to find a new superintendent. Then that person has to bring in his people and set up his programs, which takes more time. How does that help?
The mayor endured the meeting’s mind-numbing presentation of testing data to see that each of the McComb schools raised their numerical scores last year. Denman went up only 2 points and kept its F rating. But Otken jumped 82 points and now has a C rating. So there are some small steps of progress.
As for Brown, the Denman principal, one of his comments during the meeting touched on what I believe is the key issue holding back McComb and many other districts.
Discussing what Denman is doing to get rid of its F, Brown said he holds regular meetings with groups of parents. But it’s the same parents showing up each time, and it’s usually not the parents of the kids who need the most help.
Brown said he told one meeting of fathers, “I need dads. But you’re not the dads I need.”
This ties in with what Selectman Ronnie Brock asked Ellis during the meeting. Brock noted the district has its teachers and teaching coaches, and the superintendent has been there for five years. So, he asked, why still the D?
I suspect the big problem is that too many students are not being pushed at home to do better in class. As Brown said, too many parents aren’t active participants in the education of their children. Change that and test scores will continue to tick upward.
It can be done. Both North Pike and Franklin County got B ratings. Yes, those districts have majorities of white students while McComb is almost all black. That does give McComb a bigger hill to climb. And obviously it’s taking longer than anyone expected.
But should the school board change leadership? I vote no. As the mayor said, the school scores are headed in the right direction. Plus it makes sense to keep refining the student-centered learning program — which by the way is an excellent example of creative change that so many people say is lacking in education.
Here are some things the district could do better:
• Figure out a new way to present quarterly academic information. It is an avalanche of data, for kindergarten through high school, and it can be difficult to grasp. That being said, officials also should show how scores have changed over several years, which would be a better measurement of whether things are improving. They also should create an e-mail list to send the data to anyone interested.
• Figure out how to reach more unreachable parents. Instead of expecting people to come to school, go into the neighborhoods.
• This may already be in the works, but how about a mentoring program for parents who may be uncomfortable with education? If this got 10 or 20 more families involved each year, that would be real progress.
• Figure out how to get on the state’s “critical needs” list for teachers, which would help with recruiting by offering student loan forgiveness.
The criticism of McComb’s D is valid. Five years is a long time. But it does look like the district is making slow progress. Everyone wants immediate success. The more logical path is one of patience.