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School Coordinates Effort To Combat Dropouts

Special Education Coordinator Butch Stevens explains the program to prepare younger students for school. – Photo by Jack Gurner

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – The local school district is making some “forward thinking” efforts in early intervention, which officials hope will lead to an increase in the graduation rate and decrease the number of dropouts.
Special Education Coordi-nator Butch Stevens explained to school board members at their Aug. 18 monthly meeting that pre-school children are being brought into the district to focus on their pre-reading and pre-math skills.
Several pre-school centers are transporting youngsters to the district where they use the school’s equipment and technology.  Staff members of these pre-schools are learning how to use the same educational tools used by the district’s teachers to focus on the skills youngsters must have to succeed.
“Often a kid coming into kindergarten is not ready for kindergarten,” Stevens said and added that he has seen youngsters coming into the elementary school from pre-school, particularly from Head Start, who are so unprepared it is as if they have never been to school at all.
Because of the program, now in its third year, youngsters are more prepared than ever for school. “We are having fewer referrals for developmental delay,” he said.
These efforts are of particular importance since the Literacy-Based Promotion Act will be implemented during this school year.
The new law mandates that students who do not pass the end-of-third-grade reading test will be retained (held back) in 3rd grade for an additional year to improve their reading capacity, according to Superintendent Kim Chrestman.  
“This reading ‘gate’ applies to every 3rd grader in every school in the state, not just to underperforming school districts or schools,” Chrestman told school board trustees.
He also noted that the statute mandates that the Mississippi Department of Education employ “reading coaches” to train and assist teachers across the state to help students who demonstrate difficulty with reading.  “A key premise underlying this provision is that a great many teachers do not know how to teach critical reading skills and need training and assistance.”
State education officials hired 41 reading coaches and coordinators this year, again short of the goal of 75 after finishing last year with just 32, according to the superintendent.
Coaches and coordinators are serving 67 schools with the highest shares of struggling readers. There are more than 450 schools in Mississippi with students in grades K-3.  There is insufficient state funding to provide the quantity and quality of reading coaches in all schools as intended in the legislation, he added.
Chestman said that WVSD is fortunate to have Sharron Lipsey, who  was a state reading coach last year and is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that Davidson Elementary School implements the required procedures.
“She is currently working with the DES Faculty to train them in this process.  We have worked very hard to provide the necessary evaluation tools, remediation resources, and the technology necessary to be able to provide an organized, systematic approach to the interventions,” he said.

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