From improving student achievement to encouraging parental involvement, a variety of topics were addressed during Monday night’s meet-and-greet with the top two candidates for school superintendent.
The Yazoo City Municipal School District board hosted the meeting at McCoy Elementary School, which attracted about 40 people in the audience and lasted over an hour.
Dr. Darron Edwards and Angela Jones are the two final candidates for the superintendent post, selected by the school trustees last week.
Edwards currently serves as superintendent of the West Tallahatchie School District. Jones is the school improvement officer for the Coahoma County Agricultural High School in Clarksdale.
Audience members were not allowed to ask the candidates questions, but they were asked to submit a rating sheet on each candidate’s responses to a number of related questions posed by school trustees.
“We do intend to use those ratings,” said John Wallace, school board president. “We will use those – not to influence – but to certainly impact our decision.”
Student achievement was the main topic with a number of questions about improvement and development.
Jones said the ultimate goal of any school district is to educate children.
“First, we need to guarantee that our teachers receive the support they need to have in the classroom so that they are able to provide the instruction at the right rigorous level so that the kids can learn,” Jones begins.
Jones said community support is vital in any improvement efforts within a school district.
“The difference between an A district, a B district and on down the line...is how well the parents are involved with what is taking place in the schools,” Jones said.
Proper utilization of funds was also high on the list of achievement improvements, said Jones.
Training and employee support is also on Jones’ agenda, as well as providing nutritious meals and secure environments for the students.
“My background has been working in school achievement,” Jones added. “But it does take a village to raise a child.”
Jones said her experience within the Jefferson Davis School District as well as at Crystal Springs High School shows that she is able to improve achievement levels. She helped bring those two schools up from lower levels.
Edwards said student achievement can be reached by first allowing God to be the pilot, followed by an abundance of community support.
“Education is the passport to the future,” he said. “And tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
Edwards also said improvement does not start with one person.
“Success begins when we begin to work as a team,” Edwards said. “So before you talk about curriculum...student achievement, you need support. And you need support from more than just within those buildings.”
Support from stakeholders is also vital, Edwards said.
“We don’t need to be experimenting with new systems,” he said. “We need successful models that work. You need benchmarks that work.”
Edwards added that he is prepared to make tough decisions if necessary to improve student achievement.
“If you don’t love what you do, then you need to find something else to do,” he said. “We don’t have time to waste.”
Edwards said he has experience with turning a failing school district around. He said he improved the graduation rate within his current district from 56 percent to 79.6 percent.
“Two schools within the state of Mississippi have a zero percent dropout rate,” he added. “When I came, the dropout rate was 19 percent. We had higher expectations. Today it is zero percent. When you talk about moving districts forward...I’ve done that. I bring experience at every single level, and I have the results to back that up.”
Jones said motivating the employees within the school district will show in their performance.
“Let the people know that they are appreciated,” she said. “Just not from the words out of your mouth, but let them know you care.”
Jones said uplifting staff members can begin by recognizing them within the community.
“Let them know that you support them and are willing to help them,” Jones said. “Education is not just a job or career. It is a ministry.”
Edwards said leading by example is important.
“A positive word of encouragement...nothing is too big or too small to let your team know you appreciate them,” he said. “The example you set, starts with you and ends with you.”
Edwards also suggesting implementing employee surveys within the district.
Jones said she has organized town hall meetings during her career. She would like to continue that tradition within Yazoo City.
She also suggested meeting with parents periodically, not only to discuss problems but to share praises as well.
Edwards said he has organized community distribution efforts within his own district. He also suggests principals initiate call logs every week to parents.
“If you don’t come to us, we’ll come to you,” he concluded. “Fire the buses up.”
Jones said transparency is vital to letting the community and parents be aware of what direction the district is heading.
Jones said she would like to develop a positive relationship with local media, civic groups and local leaders.
“We need to be the one telling our story and not letting someone else tell it for us,” she said. “Be open about everything, the good, the bad and the indifferent.”
Jones said she would like to regularly report to the city council, mail newsletters and send press releases.
Edwards said honesty and transparency develop into positive public relations.
“You can’t wait on the local paper to tell our story,” he said. “Don’t wait on the press to come to us. We need to tell it before they come to us, the good, the bad and the indifferent.”
Edwards suggested tapping into local resources, particularly churches.
“Public relations is everyday,” he said. “It’s whether or not you tap into it to make it public.”