Representatives of the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) have taken to the road in recent weeks to hear from educators, parents, and others about how it plans to improve an already improving state school system. 

The road trip listening tour ended recently with a pair of meetings at the DeSoto County School District offices in Hernando.

The purpose of the sessions was to gain an idea from schools and parents about how MDE plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) would be accepted.

ESSA is the updated version of federal K-12 education standards, similar to the No Child Left Behind regulations states have had to deal with for the past 15 years, said MDE facilitator Nathan Oakley.

“We’re really trying to gather feedback from communities across the state about effective schools and teachers,” Oakley said. “What does students’ success looks like in our accountability model, what kind of support the department can provide for students that may be struggling or schools that may be low-performing. This work is connected to implementation of our state board’s strategic plan as well as the state’s response to the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

At each session, Oakley started by explaining the state Board of Education’s five-year strategic plan to implement ESSA, which he said would reflect many of the state educational priorities.

Oakley said ESSA, however, is different than No Child Left Behind in one regard.

“ESSA gives states back some authority with regard to establishing goals and the benchmarks along the way,” he said.

After his presentation, attendees broke into small groups to discuss issues and answer questions about how they see their schools succeeding with their students.

DeSoto County Schools, with high grades for graduation rates and ACT scores, as well as accountability results, is doing well in many areas, Oakley said, and his group wanted to find out why.

“Our goal here is really to get a sense of where communities are,” Oakley said. “We’re trying to get a sense from parents, from educators, community and business leaders and elected officials about their perspective on education, areas about what we’re doing and areas that we can improve.”

Oakley said one particular theme in all of the statewide stops was in how parents and schools are working together.

“There’s a real strong community engagement and parent engagement within a school as the parents and the schools work together in education,” Oakley said. “We’re taking these feedback points from all of these small groups and compiling them collectively and looking for common themes as we look to craft our plan and to make final edits to the work that we are doing.”

State education officials must submit a plan to the federal government for addressing ESSA by next March, or July at the latest.

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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