A draft report released by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will provide two southern Barry County school districts with goals for improvement over the next three years.
According to the report, which uses data from the 2011-12 school year, the Exeter and Wheaton school districts are among nearly 30 Missouri school districts that would become provisionally accredited if a new model of accreditation were implemented this year.
"To public perception it might appear that we are looking at becoming provisionally accredited, but three years ago we only had a score of 7 out of 10 and we have a 10 now," said Dr. Ernest Raney, Exeter superintendent. "You don't make changes overnight. It takes a while to climb. Being at a 10 now is exceptional, and it still looks like we are borderline accredited."
Over the next few years, districts will begin operating under a new accountability plan that focuses on Common Core Standards. The new plan will also include a new standardized testing system.
"We haven't taken care of some of our data entry," said Dr. Raney. "I believe if they put in the data that is missing on vocational classes and career preparation as well as the improvements we continue to make in math and reading performance our score might be different."
The Exeter School District has made a considerable amount of progress in academic performance over the last three years, said Dr. Raney.
"Our teachers continue to show improvement with our students," said Dr. Raney. "There is nothing that can substitute for quality instruction."
Dr. Raney said he recently spoke to new elementary school Principal Tim Jordan regarding the mindset of the district's faculty members.
"He said that this year the teachers are working more cohesively than ever to succeed as a team and to identify students who need extra support and develop ideas to reach those students," said Dr. Raney.
As the new accountability system is implemented, the R-6 School District will need to focus more attention on attendance, one of the areas emphasized in the new accreditation system.
"It includes a good way to look at attendance," said Dr. Raney. "We will be able to run a report anytime to see who needs help getting to school."
The district's first strategy for students who fall below 90 percent attendance will be a discussion with parents to determine if the district can do anything to help the family, said Dr. Raney.
"Discussing with parents the importance of attendance is the cure 80 percent of the time," said Dr. Raney.
In extreme circumstances, the district can also decide to seek assistance from the Division of Family Services or Barry County Prosecuting Attorney Johnnie Cox, who has indicated that he will be available to assist districts with attendance issues.
"The new standards are still very fluid," said Dr. Raney. "As changes are made, we will keep the discussion as one of our focuses to see how we compare in areas where changes are made.
"It all comes back to what quality instruction looks like and what professional development tools we need for quality instruction," said Dr. Raney. "If we keep at our core student instruction everything outside of that will take care of itself. Our focus has to continue to be on the students and making sure their needs are met to reach their highest potential."
The Exeter School District has started a new program called Paws to Achieve, which focuses on students' need for extra instruction. Jordan and a pair of teachers stay after school twice a week to work with students on core skills in math and reading in order to help them become more successful in the classroom.
"Our staff has also been working hard using the RTI (Response To Intervention) process to help reach each students' individual needs," said Jordan. "Teachers just devoted a few ours of time to look at our winter benchmark scores in math and reading in order to discover the individual needs of each student."
Faculty members used the information to schedule intervention activities for students during the district's daily Tiger Time, a block of time set aside each day to work with students on academic areas of greatest need.
"Everything our teachers do to help prepare kids gives them a true edge in performance, as they move toward graduation and when they go on to college or any career they are interested in," said Dr. Raney. "Our teachers are very prepared for the challenges. I believe they will rise to those challenges, and we will see tremendous results come through this district."
Wheaton School District
The R-3 School District will also use the draft plan released by DESE to focus on areas where improvement is needed, said Dr. Lance Massey, Wheaton superintendent.
"We have big things to think about," said Dr. Massey. "The new MSIP (Missouri School Improvement Plan) 5 places a high priority on testing rates, graduation rates, attendance and college and career readiness."
The Wheaton School District is looking at attendance policies and incentives to motivate students to maintain required attendance levels.
"Testing is one area that has always been an area of concern and focus, not only for us, but for all school districts," said Dr. Massey. "We will continue to work on ways to get students better prepared."
The district will change instruction and testing structures to reflect the new Common Core Standards testing program.
"There is always a push in rural schools to improve college and career readiness," said Dr. Massey. "We will put more focus on meeting those standards in a better way."
Many of the district's changes will come in the form of professional development over the next few years.
"We want to be well prepared and be where we need to be when those new standards are implemented," said Dr. Massey. "We are making strides, and we will continue to improve and get better."
Districts continue making updates to the data used in DESE's draft report. The state department has said most districts won't see their accreditation classification change until 2015, giving them time to improve under the new system.