Mississippi is getting $5.6 million in federal money to pay for efforts to improve poorly performing schools. The program has sent $33 million to Mississippi to help improve 10 schools or school districts since 2011.
The U.S. Department of Education announced Feb. 7 it was awarding more than $38 million. Others getting money include Delaware, Georgia, Nebraska, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, according to an article by the associated press.
Ruleville Middle School received that grant and has seen a great deal of improvement.
According to the RMS principal Miskia Davis, "The school district applied for the grant. In order to be approved for the grant, Ruleville Middle School was required to terminate the employment of the existing principal, and replace at least 50 percent of the current staff. We were also required to extend the school day, and provide a plan of action for turning the school around. I was serving as the principal of Moorhead Middle School, and when the grant was awarded, I was asked by Conservator Robert Strebeck if I would consider taking the position."
The school received approximately $3.3 million dollars to be distributed equally over 3 years.
According to Davis, Ruleville Middle School was in a state of emergency when the grant was received.
"We had the lowest test scores in the district, and had been failing for five consecutive years. The discipline was out of control, the morale was extremely low, and students and teachers were not coming to school on a consistent basis,” she said.
“The first thing that we (myself and the staff) did to begin the turn around process at Ruleville Middle School was to create and implement a consistent discipline policy. We recognized immediately that if we didn’t create a safe environment that was conducive to learning, other attempts at instruction would prove futile. We then began to develop our teachers professionally.
“Our first year, almost 60 percent of the staff were first or second year teachers, with five of the seven tested areas being taught by first year teachers who had never before taught in a classroom. During that first year, and still to this day, building administators were constantly in the classrooms observing, providing feedback, and in some instances even teaching. Our focus was on teaching and learning."
When asked how the school has improved, Davis was happy to say the school has come a long way.
"Within the first year, our QDI increased 35 points, and we went from a failing school to a successful school in one school year. We cleaned the school up, both internally and externally. We changed the culture of our school for our students and our staff. We are a family now!
“When you walk in the doors of Ruleville Middle School, it feels like a school. Teachers are teaching and students are learning. Students are so well behaved.
"The year prior to the grant, RMS had over 60 documented fights. To date at Ruleville Middle School for this school year, we have had only one. Our children are coming to school. Prior to the grant, we had a truancy rate of over 50 children, as of now, we only have four.
“Our children are talking the academic language, and meeting and exceeding our expectations daily. We have been recognized by both the Mississippi Department of Education and the United States Department of Education for our increases in student achievement. According to the New Accountability Model that will be implemented at the end of this school year, Ruleville Middle School is a B School. And to think that just two years ago, we were an F. We have come a long way!"
Davis continued on the say that she hopes to see the school eventually achieve the status of an A school and always strive for excellence.
"I want to see RMS continue in this trend of excellence. So many people tend to think that we are only successful because of the money. I always say that money doesn’t teach children. Teachers teach children. Yes, the money has afforded us the opportunity to have many resources that we may not have had otherwise such as iPads, laptops, etc., but at the end of the day, the teachers, faculty and staff are the ones who changed RMS.
"SIG afforded us opportunities to have lots of professional development that we will take with us when this grant is over. I truly believe that if the people that have been here to affect this change remain at Ruleville Middle School, the sky is the limit for the students that are exposed to them. I am so grateful that we were the recipients of the grant, for it allowed us to grow professionally which ultimately makes us better educators to our children. At the rate our children are growing, I am certain we will be an ‘A’ school in the very near future," said Davis.
West Bolivar Middle School in Rosedale also received the grant but did not perform well.