Friday, October 12, 2012

HAWKINS: A School on the Move

A couple years ago, Hawkins went through some major changes – a change in leadership, a change in staffing, a change in perspective, a change in direction.

We are now seeing the results of those changes: a complete turn-around from what was considered a failing school to a successful one.

One thing that did not change was the students and our commitment to them.

Hawkins Elementary is a wonderful school with outstanding support from our parents and the community. We have one of the strongest and most active PTA’s in the district. Ekklesia Hattiesburg has placed a person here to support the work the staff is doing and our students have certainly benefited from that partnership.

We brought in teachers from all across the district to give some new ideas and new focus to Hawkins. We wanted the best ideas and practices from all of our schools to come together to help lift up our students and reach them in new and innovative ways.

Also, we found a new school leader. A principal who could focus all of the new energy and people on the one common goal of improving student achievement. Donna Scott has done a tremendous job of implementing new strategies and creating a new atmosphere at Hawkins.

The work is not done, but Hawkins is certainly moving in the right direction and making great strides. Congratulations to everyone at Hawkins on the recent results of their hard work. Keep going!

James Q. Bacchus, Superintendent
Today’s Learners, Tomorrow’s Leaders!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Making the Best Decision for Children

Making the Best Decision for Children

Recently the Board made a decision, that I fully agree with, to support a parent and her child in contesting the ineligibility ruling handed down by the Mississippi High School Activities Association. I am convinced that this decision was in keeping with our policy of making the best decision for children. I clearly understand this decision affects more than just the one child; it also affects the 14 other students on the team, their families, and the entire HPSD community.

However, taking a stand such as this one cannot be done without commitment and sacrifice. Before this decision was made, it was clearly discussed with all involved and all the possible outcomes were placed on the table. The team and their families had a chance to voice their opinions and then a vote was taken by secret ballot. The vote overwhelmingly supported our decision to support contesting the MHSAA ruling.

As an educator for 37 years, I have made it a key focus in every decision to make sure it benefits the child or children. The MHSAA's decision, from my vantage point, is not in the best interest of this child or student athletes, in general.

Additionally, I support following the rules and guidelines that govern an organization. However, they must be clear, consistent, communicated, and administered equitably; this was not the case in this situation. Our goal is not to defy the MHSAA, but to point out that the rules are being applied in a way that is inconsistent and harming children. 

It is our hope that the courts will recognize the inconsistencies in the assessment presented by MHSAA and make a decision in the children’s best interest.

"True to oneself in such a way that one's connection to the suffering of others is an integral part of understanding yourself." Cornel West

James Q. Bacchus

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Teachable Moments

There are times and opportunities that cross our path everyday when we all can become teachers. I call these opportunities "teachable moments." These are times when we see children acting in a certain way, maybe exhibiting some poor decision-making, and we can intervene to help them see a wider perspective of what they are doing. They might also be moments when we can highlight them for doing something positive or where we can give them a chance to use something they have learned in school in the real world. We cannot afford to pass up these teachable moments with our children. In 2011, 57 years after “Brown vs. Board of Education” and 70 years after “Separate But Equal” in urban school districts, we struggle to graduate an average of 60% of our African-American students.
As I reflect on my childhood, I can recall many teachable moments that
adults, even those other than my parents, provided for me. Today teachable moments are more important than ever before. In America only 37% African-American children live in two-parent homes. That leaves over 60% of children lacking some portion of positive guidance, encouragement, and correction which must then come from extended family, schools, churches, mentors and other community outreach.

Children are exposed to many images that show them the fantasies of life (the lavish lifestyles of celebrities, athletes, actors, rappers, etc.) and not the preparation, effort, opportunity, and hard work it took to get there. In his book “A Letter to a Young Brother” actor Hill Harper writes about the F.E.A.R Factor (False Evidence Appearing Real). Many of our children are caught up in superficial things that only a few people with extreme talent and rare opportunities can afford. I am certain that teachable moments used by successful people in life will allow children to see that effort and preparation will yield opportunities. More importantly, it will expand their motivation for learning.

Many times adults will shy away from teachable moments because they fear being ignored, cursed or sometimes attacked. However, in my 37 years in education, I have always taken advantage of guiding children wherever the opportunity arises. You must approach them from a place of respect and in a manner that they will listen to. Children must hear from us every time an opportunity for encouragement, motivation and correction is available. Hearing praise for success will cause them to seek more success. As adults, we should share our experiences that relate to their situation and about our own good and poor decisions.

Children must see that we care about them and that we take ownership of the responsibilities of teaching that will provide them hope, skills and understanding to rise above their circumstances, whatever those may be.

James Q. Bacchus

Friday, October 7, 2011

Measures of Success

There is a famous line from a movie that says "If you build it, they will come." That line totally speaks to high expectations. In HPSD, we believe in and support student engagement opportunities that include high expectations. We believe in providing meaningful opportunities that allow students to excel in ways that channel their talents and abilities. We have a Forensics Team that is the premier program in the state, and that continues to win in the state and across the country. Our band and auxiliary groups supported by the band are competitive and perform at a high level in competition. Our athletic programs reflect pride and respect, and they compete to win. Our high school girls volleyball team is regional champ for the third year in a row!  We have one of the few orchestra programs in the state that engages students in grades 5-12. They perform in competitions and events around the sate and country. Just recently the Chamber Orchestra performed at the Mississippi Association for Gifted Children State Conference. Click here to see video from that performance.

Douglas Reeves, a well-known researcher in education, stated that the true measure for accountability with school and student success is student engagement. Many times our students do not see the importance of a quality education or the purpose for learning. Involvement in programs like those above can help provide the connection for learning and purpose for our students. Additionally, engagement enhances their confidence and gives them the vision to forecast what they can become. High student engagement is also a factor in their academic success as well as promoting attendance. I challenge the schools, faith-based organization, and our community to seek ways to engage children to increase their motivation and to sustain their confidence. Our students' success will be measured not only in test scores, but by the growth and success of our community and our world for generations to come.

"There's no greater insight into the future than recognizing that when
we save our children, we save ourselves." - Margaret Mead

James Q. Bacchus

Monday, September 26, 2011

Embracing a Policy Alternative

Soon after I arrived to Hattiesburg in February, I started riding the bus each morning to speak with students and get their input on our district and policies. Students repeatedly mentioned the district’s cell phone policy as an issue. My first meeting with the district’s student advisory council found the same thing. The students there also brought up as issues around the cell phone policy, and they suggested ideas about using them in class. After these meetings, I did some research about our discipline data and alternative cell phone policies in other districts.

At the start of this school year, I met with the district’s principals and administrators to discuss my thoughts about our district cell phone policy.  I felt that cell phones are a part of daily life and that we need to find ways to embrace them in constructive ways. I also felt we needed to stop spending so much time trying to keep students from having them. After the meeting, the principals agreed to allow secondary students to have cell phones at school. They are not to use them during class, but there is no penalty for simply having a phone at school at Hattiesburg High or N.R. Burger.

The flip side of this is that these little handheld computers can now be put to use for instruction! At Hattiesburg High some of our teachers have taken the initiative and incorporated using cell phones into some of their lessons. Students can browse the web as part of an assignment and send in responses via texting, etc.

By taking the focus off cell phones, staff and administrators can focus on discipline issues that really matter. Students understand the policy and principals report that very few students have violated the new policy. This idea just seemed to make sense for our students in a technology-dependent society.

James Q. Bacchus

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Serving the Needs of Our Students

In order to educate children today, we have to meet the needs of the whole child. In Hattiesburg Public Schools we have formed many partnerships to address the needs of our children, both in the classroom and elsewhere, to help them be better able to learn. These partnerships help bridge the gaps related to mental health, physical well-being, social and emotional development, dental health and basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter. These needs must be met or addressed in order for teaching and learning to take place.

In education, we operate in a world that is heavily tested and measured by scores and outcomes. This often can lead people to think only of a school and students in terms of their scores. But, if we want our students to perform well and maintain a high score, we must first tackle the obstacles that exist in their lives that hinder learning. In order to do that I have recently changed the focus of our school counselors, so that they can help connect some of the various support available in the schools and the community to the students who need that service and support. Our counselors had previously been used as test coordinators, among other things, for schools, but no longer! I want our counselors to be able to focus on serving children and their many needs. Their excitement and enthusiasm at this new change tells me they agree. When students are healthy and feel good about themselves, their focus can be on learning and great things can happen in the classroom.

James Q. Bacchus

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Preparing for Tomorrow

“Today’s Learners, Tomorrow’s Leaders!” is the motto for Hattiesburg Public Schools. Economic forecasters have stated that 65% of the jobs we are educating our eighth graders for today haven’t even been created yet. The state of Mississippi has taken a giant step forward by being one of the 45 states to adopt the Common Core State Standard (CCSS). The CCSS will support preparing students for college and career readiness, global competition, clarity and consistency on what is taught, equity that all students will be taught the same things, and requires collaboration among states, districts and community agencies. In order for us to prepare our learners today for leading tomorrow, we must engage them in their learning. Hats off to Ms. Aderholdt and Ms. Saucier, first grade teachers at Hawkins Elementary School, for bringing their students' reading to life by inviting Japanese students and their instructor from the University of Southern Mississippi to their class to share some cultural aspects related to the story the students read in class. It is the planning and engagement of teachers like this that will embrace the CCSS and prepare our students for tomorrow.

James Q. Bacchus