Pascagoula, Moss Point schools among those in line for grants to improve reading skills

January 16, 2015 in Education

Mississippi Department of Education board chairman John Kelly, left, opens the department's presentation before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, as State Superintendent Carey Wright listens. Wright and other officials made their legally-mandated push for support of Mississippi's school funding formula during their budget presentation. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi Department of Education board chairman John Kelly, left, opens the department’s presentation before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, as State Superintendent Carey Wright listens. Wright and other officials made their legally-mandated push for support of Mississippi’s school funding formula during their budget presentation. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — With thousands of Mississippi third-graders at risk of flunking this year because they can’t read at a basic level, State Board of Education members are likely to vote Friday to award $1.47 million in grants to help 34 public schools meet the reading requirements.

The schools getting money can hire their own coaches or hire teachers to tutor struggling readers. They can also pay for supplies, teacher training, after-school programs or summer school.

Pascagoula Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said the Gautier and College Park elementary schools in his district will use the money in part to pay for planned summer schools, where students who fail the standardized reading test can get extra instruction and possibly be sent on to fourth grade on time in the fall.

Rodolfich said about 120 of Pascagoula’s more than 600 third-graders appear to be at risk of flunking, adding he and others went door-to-door to meet with parents in addition to sending state-mandated warning letters.

The Legislature mandated that all third graders must read at a basic level by this year or be flunked. Last year, about 6,500 of Mississippi’s 37,000 third graders scored “minimal” on state standardized tests.

The state is already providing reading coaches to 87 low-scoring schools to help improve teaching methods. It’s using the $15 million that lawmakers appropriated to improve instruction in advance of the third-grade mandate. The grants to be discussed Friday would come from that $15 million.

In a Thursday work session, some board members voiced concerns the state still isn’t doing enough to reach all of the roughly 425 schools with students in grades K-3 statewide. The state has faced obstacles hiring as many coaches as Alabama and Florida, which have undertaken similar reading improvement efforts. Both those states have spent substantially more per student than Mississippi, aiming to provide a coach for each elementary school.

“It looks like to me we’re just helping a smattering of kids,” said state board member Bill Jones of Petal.

School districts applied for the grants last fall.

Schools that get coaches from the state are eligible for up to $25,000 in grants, while schools that currently don’t get coaches were eligible for up to $50,000.

Under the state’s A-to-F grading system, most of the schools getting money are rated B, C, or D.

“Even in high-performing schools, there are students that need support,” said Nathan Oakley, state director of curriculum and instruction.

The grants will be for the last six months of the current budget years, but Oakley said the department intends to renew them for the following two years, assuming funds are available.

The schools getting money can hire their own coaches or hire teachers to tutor struggling readers. They can also pay for supplies, teacher training, after-school programs or summer school.

Pascagoula Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said the Gautier and College Park elementary schools in his district will use the money in part to pay for planned summer schools, where students who fail the standardized reading test can get extra instruction and possibly be sent on to fourth grade on time in the fall.

Rodolfich said about 120 of Pascagoula’s more than 600 third-graders appear to be at risk of flunking, adding he and others went door-to-door to meet with parents in addition to sending state-mandated warning letters.

Pearl Superintendent Raymond Morgigno said his district will use the money to hire a part-time literacy coach and help pay for summer school. He estimates about 40 of the district’s more than 300 third-graders are at risk.

A glance at 34 schools that will share Mississpipi reading money 

Here’s a look at schools getting part of $1.47 million in grants to help improve reading instruction in grades K-3:

Biloxi: Popp’s Ferry Elementary, $50,000

Brookhaven: Brookhaven Elementary, $50,000

Canton: Goodloe Elementary, $50,000

Cleveland: Parks Elementary, $50,000

Durant: Durant Public School, $25,000

Greenville: Webb Elementary, $50,000

Harrison County: Bel Aire Elementary, $50,000

Hattiesburg: Burney Elementary, $25,000

Hattiesburg: Rowan Elementary, $25,000

Kemper County: East Kemper Elementary, $24,969.84

Lauderdale County: Northeast Elementary, $25,000

Lauderdale County: Southeast Elementary, $50,000

Montgomery County: Montgomery County Elementary, $50,000

Moss Point: Moss Point Escatawpa Upper Elementary, $50,000

Newton County: Newton County Elementary, $50,000

North Pike: North Pike Elementary, $49,684.32

Pascagoula: College Park Elementary, $50,000

Pascagoula: Gautier Elementary, $50,000

Pass Christian: DeLisle Elementary, $44,585.15

Pearl: Northside Elementary, $50,000

Pearl River County: Pearl River Central Upper Elementary, $35,000

Petal: Petal Primary, $50,000

Picayune: Roseland Park Elementary, $48,209

Pontotoc City: Pontotoc Elementary, $50,000

Prentiss County: Jumpertown Attendance Center, $50,000

Prentiss County: Thrasher Attendance Center, $25,000

Quitman County: Quitman County Elementary, $44,503

South Delta: South Delta Elementary, $50,000

South Tippah: Blue Mountain, $50,000

Walthall County: Tylertown Lower Elementary, $24,360

Water Valley: Davidson Elementary, $49,988.38

West Jasper: Bay Springs Elementary, $50,000

Yazoo City: McCoy Elementary, $ 24,996.97

Yazoo County: Bentonia Gibbs Elementary, $50,000

Source: Mississippi Department of Education.