By STEVEN NALLEY
The Mississippi Center for Public Policy named West Oktibbeha County Elementary School as an Exceed School on Oct. 18 for its strong academic performance amid a high poverty rate.
The Exceed School award recognizes schools that perform highest on state tests among Mississippi public schools with poverty rates above 90 percent. Jake McGuire, communication coordinator for MCPP, said more than 93 percent of WOCES’s students are below the poverty line, but the school attained a Quality Distribution Index (QDI) score of 176 in 2012, earning seventh place on a list of 20 Exceed Schools.
“We created the award this year to recognize public schools that are helping low-income students achieve at high levels,” McGuire said. “Exceed Schools demonstrate that all students can learn, regardless of their background. We need public schools that do not accept poverty as an excuse for low performance.”
As of 2011, McGuire said, Mississippi had 182 schools with poverty rates above 90 percent. Each school received a certificate and letter of congratulation, he said, and MCPP presented a trophy to first-place Exceed School George Elementary School in Jackson, which had a QDI of 223.
WOCES Principal Andrea Temple said she was proud and honored for WOCES to receive the Exceed School designation.
“Our faculty and staff are committed to improving student performance each day. As a team, we focus on how we can improve instruction and the lives of our students,” Temple said. “WOCES not only strives to provide a quality education, but we also give students opportunities to be socially active in clubs and organizations at the elementary level. The students attend and participate in club activities twice a month.”
Like other students in the Oktibbeha County area, Temple said, WOCES students face many challenges that come with living in poverty, but the school does not focus on students’ economic status. Rather, she said, the school focuses on the need for a quality education and a college degree or technical skill to overcome economic obstacles.
“We motivate our students to strive for excellence. If they encounter problems, we teach and model strategies to implement that will decrease or eliminate the challenges,” Temple said. “Furthermore, if they live below the poverty line, it does not determine whether or not they will achieve success. We encourage (each student) to dream. If he or she wants to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, judge or teacher, (those) dreams are obtainable. (Students’) current status will not prevent them from obtaining their destiny.”
Temple said WOCES staff also know how to stretch the school’s own limited budget, and it has not had to face this task alone.
WOCES hosts fundraisers throughout the school year, she said, helping students access technology resources, instructional programs, books and computer labs.
“The student and parental participation is remarkable. Furthermore, many organizations have donated supplies and made financial donations,” Temple said. The funds that are available are maximized greatly to benefit all students. We have purchased instructional resources, playground equipment and student incentives.”
In a press release, MCPP president Forest Thigpen said schools like WOCES serve as examples for other schools, whether they face high poverty rates of their own or not.
“If schools with more than 90 percent of students in poverty can do well on the state tests, why should we accept low scores from schools with similar poverty rates?” Thigpen asked. “And, if a high-poverty school can achieve such high scores, there is no excuse for schools with low poverty rates to score lower than that.”
Temple said other schools may be able to glean some solutions from WOCES’s example.
“We do not have all the answers, but we do believe that all children can learn and have the capability to obtain greatness,” Temple said. “Providing students with quality instruction, proper resources and support, you will observe improvements in student achievement.”