Southwest receives high score on annual report
Tilford credits high score to specialization, dual enrollment
Tosha Tilford, superintendent for the Southwest school district, has reported the district's students are exceeding expectations, based on annual performance reports released by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) this month, which showed Southwest as a whole scored highest compared to surrounding districts in the county.
"Basically, the reports are the school district's grade cards," Tilford said. "My proud moment is when we scored higher, [88.6 percent], than anyone else we compete with for students. I don't think we let people know we are a very strong district, but, I like to brag on people. Bob Walker was the superintendent for the last several years, and I was the high school principal. But, if we won first place in a tournament, that would be significant, so why not [brag a little] when we're talking the academic performance of our entire system."
The scores are the results of information received from school district, including scores on MAP testing and EOC exams (grades 3-12), attendance rates, graduation rates and college and career readiness components such as the ASBAB, the ACT, advanced placement classes, dual credit courses and tech skills assessments.
Performance standards are measured in English language arts, math, science, government for social studies at the high school level, college and career readiness, the ACT, SAT, Compass and ASBAB tests.
Tilford said she attributes the results, for one, to the district changing its strategies over the last few years.
"It takes all of these performance standards together to make that percent," she said. "Bob Walker, the previous superintendent, started this transition. The only thing I had to do with was the high school, and I plan to continue this tradition, but Bob has a huge portion of this, and all of our administrators.
"We've all worked really hard to develop school improvement plans so that we can continue [improving] over a long span. For instance, we'll do five-year plans, and we are not going to be satisfied until we're in the upper 90s."
Along with good administration, determination and working in unison as a team, Tilford attributes the good scores to focusing on individualizing instruction for all students and making sure they are matched with the right resources to develop their full potential.
"You have to you have to pay close attention to make sure you're assessing students in the right things, and in the right programs, so they can be successful," she said. "This way, you can see if they in the right program or not. Assessments also help you evaluate your program.
"What has made Southwest improve over the last eight years is we are now specializing every child's learning to their specific needs. We are offering more high quality classroom teachers than we ever have, we have many kids doing dual enrollment/credit classes, our graduation rates are higher than ever and students like to come to school because their attendance rate is good."
Teachers work in centers to help students.
"We have resource teachers that go into the classrooms, and we also break up into centers where teachers will work with certain groups, and the teacher will rotate those kids so she gets individual time in the classroom," Tilford said. "At the lower levels, we have tiered groups. They don't just go with one teacher all day, so it can be specialized for their specific needs.
"We also have the school-wide Title 1 program, so those teachers can work with groups of students also. In the future, we're looking at using Title 1 teachers for enrichment for upper level students versus just remediation, because sometimes the students who are performing really well are left to work on their own [when they may need help]."
The district also attempts to involve each student beyond just the school day.
"The last five years, we have tried to have all of our kids involved in some kind of activity," Tilford said. "We think they're also taking pride in their school, and thus, performing better.
Behavior modification is used in addition to traditional discipline.
"It teaches students how to act socially," Tilford said. "It's not just the discipline grid of, 'you do this, you get that.' It is a social behavior-changing program where students learn to act in certain situations. This is especially important at the early grades. If students are acting up in class, it's going to hinder not only their learning, but others, too."
The district's graduation rate came in at 96.1 percent.
"We are proud of that," Tilford said.
Students are able to graduate with up to 18 hours of college credit through Crowder College, improving their chances of becoming more college and career ready.
As for teachers, hiring and retaining talent is an ongoing challenge for any district, but smaller districts especially, where teachers often stay temporarily to gain experience, then transfer to schools offering bigger salaries.
"One of my focuses as superintendent is not just hiring the best teachers, it's hiring them and keeping them," she said. "I don't want to just be a training ground for the bigger districts. We put a lot of time and training into professional development and keeping them on the cutting edge, so we want to keep them. I also want them to know that they are appreciated, because it's a huge responsibility. We have great staff and teachers who all care about our kids at Southwest."
Tilford invited parents to consider Southwest for their child's school.
"I want to start getting more people interested in moving to our school district, because, a lot of times, people look at a small town and think there's not much to offer, but we offer a wide variety to our students, and a lot of things that other schools do although we don't have the money."
The Monett district scored 88.2 percent, Cassville 84.6 percent, Wheaton 86.1 percent, Exeter, 88.2 percent, Purdy, 77.1 percent, Verona 86.1 percent and McDonald County 87.9 percent.