Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 27, 2008
A meeting at the Batesville Convention Center Thursday night will give State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds a chance to tell us what is needed in Panola County to bring its public schools to higher level of achievements.
Levels of achievement in schools are measured by results of standardized testing. In the North Panola district, the results of standardized testing have brought school ratings to their lowest standings ever. The North Panola district is now a decade removed from a state takeover due to fiscal problems.
Now the district faces another imminent takeover, this time for a variety of reasons including academics and poor administration.
In South Panola, public schools are in better shape but they have appear to have plateaued at the state’s level three rating — “successful.” That’s mid-way between level five — “superior performing” — and level one — “low achieving.” Sort of like a “C” average.
What community leaders understand — especially those concerned with economic development — is that the availability of quality education has become the foremost consideration of the people who make decisions about where industry locates. They want to know that the schools are capable of educating a workforce equipped with basic reading and computation skills. They want assurance that their workers will come to work prepared.
The availability of quality education in the surrounding communities was a major factor in attracting Toyota to the Wellspring site near Tupelo.
Panola County has a site at Como that for many reasons — terrain and close proximity to the Memphis distribution and transportation infrastructure among them — rivals those that attracted Toyota to Wellspring. What we lack is the level of quality performance that the schools surrounding the Wellspring site offered.
That’s why this is not a North Panola/South Panola issue. Nobody outside of this county really knows or cares whether the lower performing schools are located in one district or the other. They just look at the county as a whole.
And what they see is that the county as a whole is failing its youngsters. Sure, we can point to outstanding graduates from both districts who have soared in colleges, universities and careers. But those are usually the top students, those who do well on their own in almost any setting.
The students we are failing are those who drop out along the way, or those who somehow eke out of high school and forget what they were supposed to have learned when they are tested at the job service as part of the pre-employment screening process.
Dr. Bounds will offer suggestions Thursday night about what we can do as parents, citizens, school and community leaders to improve out schools. The state superintendent does not mince words nor does he suffer fools gladly. He does offer bold, practical and common sense suggestions for improvement at the local level.
That is what we expect to hear, 6:30 p.m. Thursday night at the Batesville Civic Center.