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County schools hope to build on strong points

The Lincoln County School District ranked among the top 50districts in the state in six categories on the Mississippi ReportCard for 2000-2001, but the district also fell short of the mark inseveral sections.

“The report card did point out areas of strength and some areasof weakness. We will build on those strengths and certainly work onthose weaknesses,” said Superintendent of Education Perry Miller,while reviewing the recently printed report.

The Mississippi Report Card ranks the state’s 152 schooldistricts on information such as student-teacher data, finances,special education, career technical education and other areas.Report card data for the 2000-2001 school year is the most recentavailable.

The Lincoln County School District’s highest ranking was 12th inthe state for attendance as to the percentage of enrollment with98.03 percent, almost two points over the state average of 96.65percent.

“Our students must enjoy coming to school,” said Miller. “We tryto make the educational experience rewarding, and it’s payingoff.”

Miller said one area he noticed that needed improvement was inthe reading and math skills for seven and eighth graders based onthe Mississippi Curriculum Test results.

“Our main concern is on junior high,” said Miller. “We arealready looking at it and trying to formulate a plan ofaction.”

The areas where the district ranked most poorly was underfinancial information, with Lincoln County coming in 144th out of152 school districts on its total per pupil expenditures. Reportcard data showed the district spending $4,941 per pupil.

Even though the district was below the $5,717 spent per pupilstate average, Miller believes this was positive for the districtdespite the ranking.

“We are spending less than the state average, yet our studentachievements compare favorably with the rest of the state,” hesaid.

The district also ranked near the end in the percentage ofadministrative expenditures with 4.17 percent of the budget goingto administration while the state average is 3.46 percent. Thedistrict’s rank was 101st.

The district has one principal for each of its four schools, asuperintendent, an assistant superintendent and a special programscoordinator.

Miller blamed the lack of state and local funding in thedistrict for the higher percentage rate.

“If our total budget was what the rest of the state was, thenour percentage would go down,” said Miller, explaining thatadministrative costs would stay the same while other percentageswould increase.

Another low ranking in the financial area was the $20,102valuation per student in average daily attendance while the stateaverage tops $32,000.

Miller pointed out that the district ranked 122nd in the statebecause the district’s “tax base is almost exclusively residentialand farm property with very little commercial property,” whichgenerates more tax dollars.

The district did, however, show lower signs of poverty than thestate average with 40.54 percent of its students eligible for thefederal free lunch program, compared to a 54.87 percent stateaverage.

Graduation rate also brought positive rankings to the district,which landed it 40th in the state in that category.

“I am pleased, but I will not be satisfied until it’s 100percent,” said Miller about the 83.33 percent graduation rate.

The percentage of students receiving diplomas was also higherthan the state average in the special education section. Thedistrict ranked 21st in the state with 42.86 percent challengingthe state average of 23.02 percent.

Another area the district ranked well in was for the number ofCarnegie units taught to junior high and high school student. With100 units offered, the district was almost 17 units about the stateaverage.

“Our job is to prepare students for the future. The more we canexpose them to in school, the more opportunities will be availableto them in the future,” said Miller. “We feel like when studentsgraduate from our schools, they are adequately prepared to entertheir chosen field.”

The number of teachers with advanced degrees set the districtback in the rankings as they were 119th in the state for the2000-2001 school year. Data showed 30.25 percent of districtteachers having advanced degrees, compared to a state average of38.37 percent.

“If we had a university in this town or a branch of auniversity, I’m sure we’d have more teachers willing to obtainadvanced degrees,” Miller said. “As it is now, the closestfour-year college is at least 50 miles away, so that makes itharder for teachers to earn an advanced degree.”

Despite the ups and downs of the report card, Miller believesthe number of high rankings outweighs the lower rankings. He plansto continue working on improving all areas of the district so itwill receive even more good feedback in years to come.

“We were truly pleased (with the overall report) but we’re notsatisfied because there’s always room for improvement,” hesaid.