By JASMINE STEVERSON JSETEVERSON@DDTONLINE.COM,
Sat, 02/08/2020 - 1:39pm
Academic excellence for all is the main goal of Greenville Public School District (GPSD) interim Superintendent Debra Dace’s administration.
“To achieve that goal, GPSD is focusing on its ‘5-S Movement’, which represents Safety+Supervision+Scores=Student Success,” Dace said.
Dace reflected on the first 100 days of the GPSD school year and with a pondering smile said, “The first 100 days have been busy.”
At the GPSD Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 28, the board voted to end its superintendent search and to enter into contract negotiations with Dace to become the district’s permanent superintendent.
“I am very appreciative for this opportunity,” Dace said. “We have been at work, since my first day in July, collectively getting things in place from professional development training for our staff, additional resources for our children, and collaborating with parents and members of the community to enhance our learning environment.”
Excited for what’s to come, Dace said, “I’m very appreciative of the GPSD Board of Trustees for believing in me and trusting me to move forward in this role. I am very thankful again for the current and continued support of all stakeholders. We are Team GPSD and it’s a new day here in our school system.”
As she approaches her first full year as superintendent of GPSD, Dace is focused on the district finishing strong as they are touting three district-wide campaigns to achieve its goal. Those campaigns are Strive for 95, Strive for 545 and Campaign 45.
As “numeral-centric” as the campaigns may sound, Dace said they were put in place to serve as constant reminders to the students, staff and community stakeholders as to what the district is seeking to accomplish.
Strive for 95 is GPSD’s focus to have each school and the district to achieve a 95% attendance rate. Strive for 545 is the district’s overall goal to obtain a C-rating through the Mississippi Department of Education’s (MDE) accountability standards.
With Campaign 45, the focus is to ensure all students receive at least 45 minutes of i-Ready instruction. Dace said everything she and the administration does and attempts to do is in alignment with the 5-S Movement and the campaigns.
“With scores, we just really mean, ‘Is this dealing with teaching and learning?’” she said.
When Dace became interim superintendent last summer, she said the first thing they had to do was hire teachers, which they are continuing to do.
“There’s a teacher who just got his license today,” Dace excitedly said. “We’re continuing to hire teachers for our current school year as well for the upcoming school year so we’re gonna get them when we can … that helps to ensure we have them next year.
”With some of those teachers operating under special licenses, Dace also said she would be doing somewhat of a “pulse check” to see where those are on their path to licensure and remaining with GPSD teachers.
Dace discussed the support she and the district offers for those teachers making strides towards licensure.
“We provide a lot of support for them by way of reimbursement should they need to take the PRAXIS exam and if they need to be off work to take the assessment, we allow them to use that day as school related business so it doesn’t take away from their leave time,” she said.
In addition, a mini retreat was hosted for district leaders during the summer as well as a teacher academy once the school year started.
Dace highlighted the impact of the teacher shortage on the district and how the administrators and staff are consistently reviewing data to make some instructional decisions.
Some of the lead teachers were in the classroom serving as “teacher coaches” to offer support because so many of the other teachers fell into the category of “nontraditional,” according to Dace.
A-rated Armstrong Elementary’s success is one they feel they do not tout enough as a district with it being the highest rated school in Washington County.
“That school went from an F to an A-rating in one year,” GPSD public relations specialist Everett Chinn proudly said. Chiming in, Dace said, “And on the verge, looking at the data, of being right there again. That’s very hard.”
Chinn said the district was close to earning a D rating when it got an F from the Mississippi Department of Education’s 2018-2019 accountability results.
“We were eight points from being a D. Granted, people will say, ‘It’s only a D,’ but it’s better than being an F,” Chinn said.
One of the biggest challenges for Dace, she said, is time.
“I really take heart to it, trying to support not only the principals but the teachers … trying to be a listening ear for the parents, community members and the stakeholders and the biggest challenge is finding the time to get everything that I think needs to be done, done,” she said, noting she will strive to do her best.
“I’m enjoying it and I think time will always be a challenge but making sure that I communicate what our goals are and continue to bring in those stakeholders and those supporters to help with the district is important,” she said.
Dace said her goals in helping the district succeed cannot be done with an “I” mindset.
“This is a team effort and I definitely can’t do it alone; the school system can’t do it alone,” she said.
Coming back home to Greenville and being welcomed by those who remember her, Dace said, is a success in and of itself.
“I feel like people have received me and they’re willing to work with not only me, but with the district as a whole in order to be successful,” she said.
Along with Dace, Chinn talked about the significance of community partnerships to the district and how beneficial they are all around.
One partnership Dace highlighted was Hardee’s and its general manager, Deandre Spivey.
“Hardee’s is a major partner,” she said, “Mr. Spivey has helped increase parental involvement at Coleman Middle School by not only hosting events at the school but also at the restaurant … he has provided awards for our students and shows support by attending our school board meetings.”
Chinn added Garfield’s Restaurant & Pub was another key partnership and has partnered with the district since 2012 under the leadership of owner and operator Mona Watson.
“And, we’re looking to obtain more community partners through local business and local nonprofit agencies,” he said.
The other major partnership highlighted was the United Way of Washington County and GPSD’s participation as donors in its annual fundraiser campaign.
Growing post-secondary opportunities
GPSD is continuing with year two of its early college program and partnership with Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU).
“This year, we have about 56 or 57 students in that program,” Dace shared, “what we try to do is recruit 30 students for the program each year.”
Dace pointed out for various reasons, such as relocation, there may be some students who move out of the program.
“The whole purpose of the early college program is to provide better opportunities for our students when they exit high school…when these students exit high school, they will actually have about 41 college credits,” she said.
Even if those students do not choose MVSU, they will enter as a junior at the four year university they do choose to attend.
Dace added if they decide to go to a community college, they will finish just that much quicker with their associate’s degree.
Another opportunity recently extended to GPSD is the U.S. Department of Education’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant —another example of the support for students in post secondary education.
Dace noted Greenville is one of only three districts in Mississippi to participate in the GEAR UP grant.
“It’s a seven-year grant and it begins with our current seventh graders,” Dace said. “Our current seventh graders will be participating in ACT assessment and ACT Aspire and so we’ll provide them with the opportunity to take that assessment in the spring.”
In addition, those students will receive monetary support as they exit high school.
GPSD is also continuing with its medical pipeline initiative.
One of the major programs the district has is its emergency medical technician (EMT) program by which the district collaborates with Coahoma Community College.
Last year, approximately four students participated and, according to Dace, the program has gained nearly four times that number in participation.
“The district provides transportation for those students who take classes on Saturday,” Dace said.
The choice to participate in the EMT program is the student’s own and he or she will have that certification when they graduate from high school, Dace pointed out.
The program is demonstrative of the district’s efforts to make sure students are college and career ready.
“It’s all about doing what’s best for our students, teachers, staff, and our wonderful parents,” Dace said. “I am looking forward to working with all administrators and community stakeholders to help continue to improve student achievement in GPSD.”