The Petal School District continued its straight-A run as the state's top school district with the release of the 2018-19 accountability results by the state Department of Education. All five schools in the district received A's in the report.
Petal led the state's school districts with 754 points. Also in the Top 5 districts were Ocean Springs (731), Clinton (729), Oxford (726), and Madison (726).
Dr. Matt Dillon, Petal's superintendent, passed the praise to several groups.
"I could not be more proud of our faculty or staff or teachers, administrators, support staff, students and families, just everybody coming together collectively," he said. "They put forth extraordinary efforts in all that they do, and then they get these extraordinary results. What I really like is the consistency that I've seen. This is going into my sixth year here in the district, and the consistency is just a second to none."
Dillon said controlling those areas that you can control with proficiency in meeting the individual needs of all of the students stands out to him.
"I get the privilege of seeing things behind the scenes, and I get to see all the hard work that goes in those longer than 8-hour days, those weekends, those P.L.C. meetings with our talking individually about students and how they can tailor lessons around the students and how they challenge the other."
Dillon said Petal students and residents realize the importance of a stellar education.
"There's a tradition of excellence," he said. "What I really like is you know when your organization is highly effective, you have to still make changes and tweak things. You can't be scared to do things a little bit different based on the results that we've got because it's important as we grow and try to continue to get better."
"We have to make those changes and do different things, but again you know it is pretty special. I do think I am very biased; Petal is a very special place."
Dillon said he gets questions from other superintendents around the state.
"A question I'm asked a lot is ‘What makes Petal so special?'" he said. "It's our people. Our people just go above and beyond. They have high expectations for themselves. They don't want to let their colleagues down, and they don't want to let their leaders down. Our students just respond, and they're just so resilient, and it's just a great combination."
Petal School District is not resting on its laurels, Dillon said.
"You're adapting so you know the changes to improve, and it keeps you in that same ballpark," he said. "When you get to the top, it becomes more challenging, and I can argue this is very challenging when you have the success that we're having. The district's task is not just to maintain it because we're not looking to maintain anything. We're looking to borrow and always provide world-class educational opportunities for all of our students, not just in academics and athletics and art and clubs, the entire experience."
"You have to be willing to change things up from year to year even though you're having great success with some of the processes that you had in the past," Dillon continued. "We don't make a lot of wholesale changes, but we tweak things; and, that's what I really am impressed about when I get to go into classrooms in the ten professional learning communities. Our teachers just want the best for our kids, and it really shows."
Behind Petal High School's grade of 764 points, A's were also earned by the lower-grade schools of Petal Primary School (541 of 700 points), Petal Elementary School (521), Petal Upper Elementary School (500) and Petal Middle School (493).
Almost 75 percent of schools and 70 percent of districts rated "C" or higher in accountability grades, showing a three-year trend of continuous school and district improvement.
The state set a goal in 2016 that all schools and districts be rated C or higher. Since that time, the percentage of schools meeting this goal has risen from 62.4 percent in 2016 to 73.5 percent in 2019. The percentage of districts meeting the goal has increased from 62.2 percent to 69.7 percent.
Over the same period, the number of schools and districts earning an A has more than doubled, with A-rated schools jumping from 88 to 196, and A-rated districts increasing from 14 to 31.
Among the 140 districts and five charter schools, 46 increased their letter grade from 2017-18 to 2018-19. Among the state's 877 schools, 258 increased their letter grade from last year.
"Mississippi schools and districts are achieving at higher levels each year, and their grades demonstrate how well they are serving the children in their classrooms," said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. "I am extremely proud of our students and their families and every teacher, staff member, and leader who work hard every day in our schools and districts across the state. Together, families, communities, and educators are preparing students to be successful in college, the workforce, and life."
The percentage of schools and districts rated D or F dropped significantly since 2016, from 37.6 percent to 26.2 percent for schools, and 37.8 percent to 29.0 percent for districts.
Mississippi's A-F accountability system evaluates how well schools and districts are performing each year. Accountability grades are based, in part, on how well students perform and progress from year to year on the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) tests for English language arts (ELA) and Mathematics. These tests are aligned to the Mississippi College and Career Ready Standards and are administered annually to students in grades 3-8 and in high school. Overall, students showed statistically significant gains in both ELA and Mathematics from 2017-18 to 2018-19.
"Student achievement on MAAP reached an all-time high in 2018-19 because teachers are challenging students to achieve at a higher level," Wright said. "I am a firm believer that students can and will achieve more when they are challenged and supported by great teachers who help them."