Extra, Extra, read all about it! The Petal School District in Petal, Mississippi proves its students can compete nationally! The scores recently released from the spring 2015 PARCC assessments show Petal students scored above the state average as well as above the national average. In a state regarded as an academic bottom dweller, and academically hailed by its own Governor as a “dismal failure,” this news is simply amazing! So, how did this happen? Was it luck, or was the assessment flawed? Neither! The success of the Petal School District is the result of high expectations and hard work by students, teachers, parents, school administrators, and the community. Despite a less than education friendly state legislature, a statewide backwoods aversion to rigorous curriculum standards, and inadequate state public school funding, the Petal School District continued to be successful by putting the needs of children first.
The educators in Petal thumbed their noses at education floggers in the Mississippi Legislature, parents who cried homework was too hard, and a public more interested in their pocketbooks than funding education. They showed what can happen when kids have adults – teachers, school administrators, parents, and the community – who believe in them. The school district demonstrated that success in school is a lot like Christmas; it begins with faith and believing – faith in teachers and believing all kids can learn. Maybe, if state leaders demonstrated the same faith and support for educators and a stronger belief in the ability of Mississippi children to learn, all Mississippi children would have a chance at the same success. .
Many years ago, Petal took a leap of faith out of concern for the education of its children, and that faith and belief that a good education is at the core of success in life have propelled this small community to the forefront of public school education in Mississippi. Petal is an example of what can happen when everyone in the school district and the community commit themselves to common education beliefs. In Petal, high educational expectations are not confined within the walls of the schoolhouse; the same high expectations are held by the community, a major reason for the success of the school district. As a result, although the district feels the sting from the lack of support and insufficient funding at the state level, the district is not crippled or held hostage by the state’s indifference. When it comes to education, Petal’s unwavering commitment to children carries it through the hard times. It is sad the Mississippi Legislature does not have such a commitment.
The Petal School District and community should celebrate and be proud of their historic accomplishment. For the first time, Mississippi children had an opportunity to showcase with other children across the nation, and though the results show Mississippi has work to do, successes like Petal show Mississippi does not have to be last. For children and teachers to be able to compare themselves to other children and teachers across the nation is an invaluable tool. Unfortunately, the Governor and the state legislature did not see it as such and forced the Mississippi Department of Education to drop the PARCC assessment for a less rigorous, more Mississippi friendly assessment. Mississippi school children do not need a watered down Mississippi friendly assessment that will serve only to once again produce an unrealistic sense of accomplishment and success. In an age of escalating knowledge and constantly changing career opportunities, our children should be challenged to rise above the ingrained idea that “if it was good enough for my mama and daddy and their mama and daddy, it is good enough for me.” Our children are better than that; our children must be better than that to have the lives we dream and work for them to have. Thankfully, Mississippi school districts such as Petal recognize this and do everything humanly and fiscally within their means to challenge and prepare children to compete not only nationally but globally.
Although not perfect, the PARCC assessment provided a truer picture of where Mississippi students stand academically as compared with other students across the nation. It gave a more realistic picture of student strengths and weaknesses than any of the previous Mississippi friendly as well as educator friendly assessments the state has administered. It is deeply troubling that Mississippi leaders objected to such a potentially motivating and strategic educational tool; I can’t help but wonder what it is about Mississippi children that our state leaders do not believe in or want to hide. I am fairly certain though that whichever it is will be well hidden by the new state assessments; at least to those who choose to review it with a blind eye.
Regardless, school districts such as Petal will continue to thrive even with a watered down assessment; it will just make success a little more difficult. The Petal School District holds to a set of core learning principles that guide everything it does with the belief that all children can learn at the center of those principles. That belief is not a paper belief, but a real breathing conviction that children come first. It is a belief that the leadership in Jackson would do well to replicate. If the public and state leadership had the same unwavering commitment to put children first, Mississippi could move mountains. However, until such a glorious day arrives, it will take school districts like Petal to dare thumb their noses at the naysayers and dare say, “It’s for the kids!”
Congratulations Petal! You have once again made us proud! You have given hope for a brighter future for all Mississippi children during this Christmas season. Merry Christmas, and May God continue to bless the school district, the educators who work so hard for children, and the community that supports them so well.
©Jack Linton, PhD December 19, 2015