The audience applauded as Errick L. Greene, superintendent for Jackson Public Schools, displayed data showing improvement in third-grade test scores on the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program, or MAAP, assessment at the June 4 JPS board meeting.
MAAP measures student achievement in English language arts, math, science and U.S. history. This year's results showed a 14% increase in students who passed after two testing cycles this year and with a performance level of three and above.
"While there are many more students that we've got to serve and get them over this hurdle, you can already see that there's quite a bit of improvement in the students' performance last year versus the performance this year," Greene said at the meeting.
Though Greene was proud of the improvements, he said it was not enough and that they have an opportunity to continue to raise the students' performance on the assessment. He said the test scores show what "dedication, focused effort and commitment" from students, parents and teachers can do in a short time span.
Greene said the results will change after the third testing cycle at the end of the summer. Those students who have not passed are attending summer school with additional studies.
Curriculum will change for the 2019-2020 school year with the implementation of "Wit & Wisdom" and "Ready Mississippi Mathematics." Greene said Wit & Wisdom is an English language arts curriculum that will form the basis of kindergarten-through-fifth-grade reading.
Great Minds, a nonprofit organization that creates instructional education materials and shares them in the field, developed Wit & Wisdom. The curriculum will include texts called geodes, which "combine carefully selected words with highly engaging content to create an authentic reading experience."
"The texts in the geodes are 80% decodable, meaning students can learn to apply their sound and phonics learning to successfully read the texts," he said. "Teachers have resources that build on the concepts taught in phonics programming."
He added that the new curriculum is more reliant on texts and discussions, and contains explicit writing instruction with fewer paper-and-pencil tasks.
"We've been very thoughtful about the costs and what it takes to have these materials in place in the summer for professional development, as well as in place for students as they return to school in the fall so we can hit the ground running," Greene told the board members.
He said Ready Mathematics, which will be for kindergarten through eighth grade, will help teachers create a classroom of students who become real-world problem-solvers. He said students will develop mathematical reasoning, engage in discourse and build strong mathematical habits. Curriculum Associates created the program.
"There is lots of real intentional work built into the program that challenges students to not only to be able to work out problems, but to think conceptually," he said.
This new curriculum gives teachers the opportunity to think critically about the needs of students and how the student's needs are met, Greene said.
"One of the things we've been mindful of is that we have strong materials as a base, so that we can do the heavy-lifting and thinking about how we use strong materials from the start," he said. "This gives us an opportunity to continue to up our game as thinking practitioners, not as robots."
Jeanne Middleton Hairston, board president, said she was excited to learn of these new curriculum and their benefits for the upcoming school year.
"I believe firmly that our teachers will welcome this work and will welcome the opportunity to be all on the same page, pulling together around high-quality materials," she said.
Michael Cormack Jr., JPS chief of staff and transition manager, presented an international teacher placement agreement between TPG Cultural Exchange and JPS. This would bring 25 international teachers into the district in response to teacher vacancies in the school district. JPS currently has 401 teacher vacancies.
"They would enter the United States and participate in our induction activities as teachers, and they are paid a teacher's salary," Cormack told the board.
Robert Luckett, a board member, was a supporter of the program, but he wanted to be sure that the board had room in the budget to accommodate these new teachers. Sharolyn Miller, JPS chief financial officer, said JPS is working the program into the budget.
Though the deadline to secure these teachers is coming up, Cormack said JPS and TPG have already interviewed some candidates for jobs upon the board's approval of the program.
"We have a list in queue right now where we're reviewing transcripts and trying to pair them with vacancies. We're moving aggressively to wrap up the process and secure individual teachers that we can bring before the board for July 16," he told the board.
Board President Jeanne Middleton Hairston wanted to ensure that when the teachers come over that they are sharing parts of themselves and the culture with the students.
"We're going to support them and all, but are giving a good bit in these tight times," she told Cormack.
Cormack said that each teacher must complete a cultural exchange project as a component of their visa. This would allow the teachers to reflect on their cultural exposure of being in the United States and the students being exposed to a global perspective, he said.
The JPS board members voted to approve the proposal.
Follow Jackson Free Press reporting intern Aliyah Veal on Twitter @AliyahJFP. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.