KEMPER COUNTY, Miss (WTOK) - The Kemper County School District is no longer rated as "failing". Based on recently released test scores from the Mississippi Department of Education, the district has improved to a "D" status, and so has the high school.
"We worked hard," says Kemper County High School Principal Kathi Wilson. "We had Saturday schools. We came after hours. The district supported everything we did, and it was just a community effort."
Administrators want to improve the district's rating by at least one letter grade each year. To help motivate students and teachers, for the first time, the district is distributing $12,000 in grant money to students who scored "proficient" or "advanced." The money is also being shared with teachers who helped students reach those goals.
"I'm proud, and I can't really take credit for it because the children worked really hard," says 7th grade science teacher Darolyn Bennett.
"It's definitely encouraging," says 8th grade science teacher, Rajkumari Jakkula. "It feels that somebody has recognized my work, and it also helps me. It motivates me, and I definitely will go the extra mile to make my children even better in the coming years."
Mississippi Power Company partnered with the non-profit Kemper County Improvement Foundation to provide the grant. The money is being used to give students $20 each for every subject they scored proficient or advanced in during testing. Teachers are also being awarded $25 for each of their students who achieved this status.
"We hope by doing that that will help the students have increased motivation to do their best," says Superintendent Jackie Pollock.
From school t-shirts to inspiring charts, pictures and graphics that are posted on hall walls, motivation is a big part of Kemper County's strategy.
Earlier this year administrators adopted a list of goals for the district. They are:
1. By 2020 to become a "B" district.
2. By 2020 to maintain at least a consistent 85% graduation rate.
3. To enhance the school environment across the board.
4. To operate efficiently and financially sound.
5. To recruit and retain highly qualified staff members.
"If we can see that continuous improvement and momentum, then we're on our way," says Pollock.
Kemper County's graduation rate also improved during the most recent ratings period from 68% the year prior to 74% last year.
Administrators say all of the district's schools showed some progress. However, the overall ratings for its two elementary schools stayed the same. East Kemper received a "C" rating, and West Kemper remains as "failing."