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SSD sees changes in leadership, strategy

December 26, 2012


Several new leaders joined the Starkville School District in 2012, bringing with them multiple strategic changes aimed at improving the SSD’s academic performance.

Lewis Holloway, formerly superintendent of the Bulloch County (Ga.) School District, was selected as SSD superintendent in February and formally installed in July, but he maintained a dialogue with the SSD in the months between, attending such events as Jacket Jam in April. Once Holloway was installed, several of his strategies to improve the district centered around technology, including a new InformationNOW online student information system and new Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing. Combined, Holloway said, these two changes give parents a clearer view of their children’s academic growth.

“We’re focusing on technology and getting teachers the technology they need in the classroom,” Holloway said. “The purpose of assessments needs to be to give us insight on how we improve our education.”

The Mississippi Department of Education gave the SSD a successful overall accountability designation, with Quality Distribution Indexes (QDIs) rising 16 points to 164 for Ward-Stewart Elementary School and rising 14 points to 158 for Henderson Intermediate School. Starkville High School’s QDI fell 14 points to 163, and not only did AMS drop 3 points to a 149-point QDI, but MDE also downgraded AMS from successful to academic watch because it did not meet state-mandated growth requirements.

MAP testing will help these scores improve, Holloway said, but the improvement will not be apparent until May, when the SSD will give the next MAP tests. Students and teachers still need more time to learn how to use MAP and make the most of it, he said.

Holloway said the district also received 10 new buses this year and will establish separate bus routes in the next school year for grades K-5 and grades 6-12.

“We will have to have staggered start times between the elementary schools and high schools,” Holloway said, “but I believe it will be a great improvement that will greatly reduce the amount of time students spend on buses.”

Two new administrators also joined the SSD staff in 2012. In June, SSD selected Toriano Holloway, formerly principal of Harrison Central High School in Gulfport, as assistant superintendent for federal programs and operations, and he, like Lewis Holloway, began his SSD job in July. Toriano Holloway replaced Walter Gonsoulin, who left the district to become superintendent of the Fairfield, Ala. City Schools in April.

Similarly, Beth Sewell left her position as SSD assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in July, after almost a year as its interim superintendent. In October, SSD replaced Sewell with Jody Jones Woodrum, a former Bulloch County School District administrator who worked with Holloway for five of her 25 years of educational experience. She began work immediately.

The Starkville School District also faced tragedy early in 2012 when both SHS junior Devin Mitchell, 16, and AMS sixth grader Laura Carson, 11, died in separate incidents on New Year’s Day. In the week after Mitchell’s death, Merve Karan, then-news editor of SHS’s Jacket Buzz student newspaper, said in January students memorialized Mitchell through Twitter, with a “#32forever” hashtag representing Mitchell’s number on the SHS football team.

“People have been using the hashtag for important information like funeral times, meeting arrangements for the football team or the class of 2013 and #32forever merchandise,” Karan said in January. “Other people would tweet a meaningful quote, Bible verse or memory under the same hashtag, while others have adopted the hashtag as a daily thing. People have also tweeted that this tragedy has really brought Starkville High School together as a family.”

First United Methodist Church memorialized Laura Carson through a dinner show in May to raise funds for a high ropes course at Camp Lake Stevens near Oxford. Laura’s mother, Jennifer Carson, said in April that Laura loved Camp Lake Stephens and would have wanted the camp to feature a new challenge.

“We have been overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity,” Jennifer said in April. “We are truly blessed to be in this community. Our friends, church and family have been a huge part of taking care of us physically and emotionally and will continue to do so. Also ... knowing that Laura is with our savior now is a great comfort.”

Finally, Starkville High School social studies teacher Jason Lernard Young, 29, was arrested in October with charges including his second DUI, fleeing a law enforcement officer, assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and malicious mischief. The SSD suspended Young with pay after the arrest, and he resigned from his position a few days afterward.

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