MDE Launches Mississippi Innovation Lab Network to Encourage Student-Centered Learning Opportunities

JACKSON, Miss. – The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) has launched the Mississippi Innovation Lab Network (MS-ILN) that encourages a network of A- and B-rated school districts to work together to identify, test, and implement student-centered approaches to learning that will be shared statewide to help transform education in Mississippi.

The student-centered approaches to learning include personalized, competency-based, and anytime/anywhere learning.

“Advancements in technology, coupled with evolving workforce demands, require students be given opportunities to achieve at their own pace, whether advancing beyond standard mastery or requiring additional support to achieve proficiency. MDE developed this project to move Mississippi ahead and to provide opportunities for more districts to implement strategies that prepare all students to be college and career ready,” said Jean Massey, executive director of the Office of Secondary Education.

The school districts selected to participate in the network include the Districts of Innovation that will serve as exemplars for other districts. The current Districts of Innovation are Baldwyn, Booneville, Corinth, Grenada, Gulfport, and Vicksburg-Warren. The school districts that have joined the MS-Innovation Lab Network are:

  • Rankin County
  • Pascagoula-Gautier
  • Pontotoc County
  • Hinds County
  • George County
  • Jefferson Davis County
  • Starkville-Oktibbeha County
  • New Albany
  • Oxford
  • Kosciusko
  • South Tippah
  • Neshoba County

Districts will collaborate in learning communities to implement policies and improve practices to support underserved students. Membership in the network has no cost associated with it but does require a commitment from district superintendents, administrators, teachers, and local school boards to join and receive support for their work.

“Mississippi’s network provides opportunities for districts to share best practices and to innovate in ways that will better prepare our students for the future,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “We look forward to discovering effective approaches to student learning that meets their needs.”

The MS-ILN process also will be used to identify future Districts of Innovation participants. Legislation passed in 2015 allows districts to apply for District of Innovation status, which enables them to request exemptions from state regulations to achieve performance targets.

A district that wishes to be identified as a District of Innovation will be invited to participate in the MS-ILN one year prior to making application for District of Innovation status.  This one-year period allows collaboration with participating Districts of Innovation and the MDE to provide technical assistance to the district and to evaluate the district’s readiness to be titled a District of Innovation.

The networks will participate in innovative strategies and models that have been shown to be effective in other districts or states or new innovative strategies or models created by the district or school. Innovative strategies may include:

1)      Moving to a competency-based learning system, including the development of alternate methods for delivering curriculum or for measuring mastery of standards and skills;

2)     Creating multiple pathways to graduation, including rigorous career and technical pathways, apprenticeships, early college high schools, early graduation options, or digital learning opportunities;

3)     Rethinking the times and places that learning occurs, including lengthening or flexing the school day or school year, moving learning beyond the traditional school building, or incorporating expanded learning opportunities;

4)     Implementing forms of school governance that include the engagement of teachers, parents, and community members;

5)     Designing learning environments that include student input in the guidance and career development for K-12 students;

6)     Creating additional job classifications for certified or classified staff beyond the traditional roles of teacher and instructional assistants and compensating staff on schedules other than single salary schedules.

Dean Provence Endowment Grant Winners Announced

Pictured l-r: Tammy Almand, Katie Kidd, Tracy Vainisi, Julie Eaton, Mary Beth Muncie, and Keith Conlee, President of Endowment Board. Not Pictured: Lee Allen Holt.

The Dean Provence Endowment for Excellence in Education Board has announced the allocation of funds totaling nearly $12,800 to teachers in the New Albany School District (NASD). In an effort to maximize the effectiveness of the awards, this year grants were directed to New Albany Middle School, New Albany High School and NASTUC.  Endowment funding will be used for equipment and materials in the classroom that are not typically covered by the school budget.

The Endowment for Excellence in Education was begun in 1986 as the vision of School Board member Dean Provence. Provence, a New Albany native, was an active volunteer in both school and community activities. Through his volunteer efforts, he recognized the need for additional funding in the schools for projects and classroom materials, and was instrumental in establishing the endowment fund. Following his death, the locally supported endowment fund was renamed in memory of Provence and has continued to provide needed funding to classrooms in the New Albany Schools for more than twenty-five years. Since 1986, the Endowment has provided approximately $359,000 in support to the NASD.

The endowment is funded through individual and corporate contributions and fundraising events sponsored by the Endowment Board. Contributions to the Dean Provence Endowment for Excellence in Education are accepted throughout the year and may be mailed to New Albany Schools, Attention: Melanie Anderson, 301 Hwy. 15 North, New Albany, MS 38652.

Project – Applicant – School – Amount Awarded

Special Effects Lighting Production, Mary Beth Muncie, New Albany High School, $8,439

INAYEMS News, Tracy Vainisi & Julie Eaton, New Albany Middle School, $2,600

STEM Robotics, Lee Allen Holt & Tracy Vainisi, New Albany Middle School, $933

Flexible Seating, Tammy Almand, NASTUC, $312

Teen Life Skills Series, Katie Kidd, NASTUC, $499



New Albany School District Promotes National Dropout Prevention Month During October

October is National Dropout Prevention Month, a time to focus on increasing awareness of the long-term effects on students, the economy, and society when students drop out of school. National Dropout Prevention Month challenges our nation to become better informed about how to prevent students from dropping out of school.

The New Albany School District is committed to student achievement, student attendance, and dropout prevention this school year and in the coming years.

To promote awareness and better prepare for putting dropout prevention measures in place, a team from the National Dropout Prevention Center visited New Albany High School (NAHS) in the spring of 2017 for the purpose of interviewing staff and collecting data.  This team prepared a report for the high school which offered ideas and strategies for improving the dropout rate.

Dr. Mark Wilson, who is considered an expert in dropout prevention, conducted a two-day session with school administrators and counselors on specific strategies each school could use in their dropout prevention plans.

“Our district dropout prevention team has worked very hard to create a dropout prevention plan for our district,” said Superintendent Lance Evans.  “This is an ongoing process where our team meets on a regular basis to report on progress and seek input.”

Evans credited the high school for their work with students on credit recovery, as well as the work the elementary and middle schools are doing to insure that dropout prevention starts in the early years of a student’s education.

John Ferrell, NAHS Principal, explained that several students graduated in May 2017 because of the credit recovery opportunities that had been made available to them.  He also noted that students that are juniors and seniors have been identified that are behind a grade level or more in school.  The counselors are working with these students on an individual basis to develop a plan on completing credit recovery courses so that they can graduate on time with their age level peers.

The decision to drop out of school is not due to one single factor. It is the result of a process that often begins years before the actual event. Communities that understand the life-long impact for students who drop out of school and that work together to support at-risk students, however, can help decrease the likelihood that students will drop out of school. Begun early, effective prevention initiatives are the result of community-wide efforts that involve families, businesses, faith-based organizations, and schools.

National Dropout Prevention Month encourages public, private and nonprofit entities to raise awareness of the issue and encourage all students to stay in school for the brighter future it means.

The Alliance for Excellent Education reported that, on average, non-graduates earn $8,000 less per year than high school graduates; rely more heavily on public health services; are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system; are more likely to rely on various sources of public assistance and welfare; often experience quality-of-life challenges as a result of lower income levels and higher rates of public dependence; and are less likely to vote, have poorer health, and have shorter life expectancies than graduates.

“We understand that dropout prevention is a commitment and partnership between the schools, community, businesses, and families,” Evans emphasized.   “We are working hard to make sure that the schools are working hard to increase our graduation rate and lower the number of dropouts in the New Albany School District.”

Back to School Safety

School buses are the safest form of highway transportation according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Our main concern is always safety,” said Lecia Stubblefield, Director of Transportation.  “We maintain our buses to a superior condition and our drivers are trained regularly in safety.”

The New Albany School District needs the help of everyone in the community to exercise constant courtesy and caution when they are near school buses, loading and unloading areas, and school zones.

Motorists are encouraged to be aware that school is back in session, to use extreme caution during school hours, and remember these basic school bus safety tips.

  • Be aware of flashing orange and red lights.  Flashing lights signal that students are about to board or unload the bus.
  • When a school bus is stopped on a four-lane highway that is not divided, ALL lanes of traffic must stop while the stop arm on a bus is extended.
  • Never pass a stopped school bus with its stop arm extended and red lights flashing.  It is illegal to pass a stopped school bus. Fines may range from $350 to $750.
  • Obey speed limits and slow down when driving in school zones.
  • Watch for students who may be walking to school or to school bus stops.
  • Pay attention to school bus traffic.

There are also several safety reminders for students who use school bus transportation.  Parents are encouraged to discuss these safety rules with their children:

  • Students should arrive at their school bus stop early and wait in a safe place away from the street.
  • Always stay in the sight of the driver.
  • Before boarding the bus, students should make sure the bus is stopped and the safety lights are flashing.  Students should wait for the bus driver to motion for them to board.
  • Always walk in front of the bus and never behind it.
  • Be alert to traffic before getting on and off the bus.  Look both ways before crossing the street.
  • While riding on the bus, stay seated and quiet so as not to distract the driver

“We continue to stress the importance of bus safety on multi-lane highways and to remind motorists that all lanes of traffic are required to stop when a bus is loading or unloading on an undivided highway,” Stubblefield said.  “Our main priority for our school bus drivers is to get students to and from school safely each day and they need the cooperation of other motorists to maintain the safety of our students.”


Cagle Receives Taylor Moore Scholarship at NAHS

Sam Cagle was awarded the Taylor Moore Memorial Scholarship at the New Albany High School graduation ceremony on May 19, 2017.  The $5,000 competitive scholarship is given each year to a deserving NAHS student who plans to attend college in Mississippi.  The scholarship selection process includes criteria relating to character, GPA, extracurricular activities, written essay, and an interview by a selection committee.

Sam is the son of Jeff and Kathryn Cagle.   He is a member of First Baptist Church where he participated in Bible Drill and served as a volunteer for Vacation Bible School, Kids’ Church, and Mega Sports Camp.    Sam plans to attend Mississippi State University this fall and pursue his studies in Biological Sciences.

An honor graduate, Cagle was STAR Student, Salutatorian, and selected into the NAHS Hall of Fame.   He was a member of the National Honor Society, FBLA, Spanish Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and National Technical Honor Society.  Cagle served as a Vision mentor, has been involved with the Union County Leadership Academy, and attended Boys State.

Cagle, a two-sport athlete, lettered in football and basketball.  He was selected to the All Division 2-4A football team and was the basketball team’s leading rebounder.  He was the school winner for the Lindy Callahan Award and the Wendy’s High School Heisman.

The Taylor Moore Scholarship was established by Bobby and Minerva Moore in memory of their son who died in 2000.  Taylor Moore was a 1988 honor graduate of W.P. Daniel High School.  He was Mr. DHS, Most Popular, Most Dignified, and Class Favorite and was active in student government.  Moore played first base for the DHS baseball team, and received numerous academic honors.  He went on to receive his bachelors and masters degrees in business administration from Mississippi State University.

The scholarship established in his memory has been awarded for thirteen years to outstanding graduates of New Albany High School.  Past recipients of the Taylor Moore Scholarship are Stacy Stepp, Darden Holmes, Kyle Kimbrough, Ivy Lauren Williams, Kyle Hickey, Callie Creekmore, Taylor Goode, Josh Creekmore, Olivia Dunnam, Lauren Cavender, Jack Hickey, and Meghan Van.