Four School Districts Earn Level 5 Honors

Nancy Chandler asked her third graders, "What's happening at the beginning of the story"?

Students at St. Martin North Elementary are hitting the books again, picking up where they left off, before Katrina.

"Getting back to business. We're hugging our kids, loving our kids, just glad to see them. They're ready to work," Chandler said.

The youngsters are learning that hard work has its rewards. Before, their school was the only one with a level 4 rating in the Jackson County School District. This time, they achieved a level 5 on the statewide accountability system.

"We screamed. You could hear us all over the building. Our superintendent came and broke the news to us. So we were very happy," Chandler said.

Teachers believe the changes they've made led to better test scores. For instance, they reduced the class size, tested and tracked students who fall behind, and offered incentives.

Chandler asked her students "What will happen when you get those points?"

They responded "You get to go to Skate Zone."

"A limo ride, Chuckie Cheese, all those things are really exciting for children. So bribery works," Chandler said.

Students in the higher grades also excelled. The Jr. High and High Schools experimented with several programs, including free after-school tutoring, to keep their level 5 status.

"It just made you think wow, all your hard work paid off, and for them it meant everything," Biology teacher Lynn Zimmerman said.

Another program that seems to be working is called "double dipping".

"That involves students being able to go back to their classroom. For instance, Biology, if they were having a difficult time on the chapter that covers cell structure and function, they're able to come back to the class. Instead of going to maybe PE, they could come to Biology again," Zimmerman said.

Teachers are confident their students are up to the challenge of becoming a "superior" school district once again.

"They're ready, because things have been so chaotic. They're ready to focus back on things they have control over," Zimmerman said.

The results are important because they measure how well each school performed on the tests, and whether they've met the federal "No Child Left Behind" standards. Overall, just about every school district in South Mississippi showed growth and improvement, earning level 3's or above.