Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Student-Centered Focus

There were three events that took place recently that I thought were extremely meaningful to the success of Hattiesburg Public Schools, the City of Hattiesburg and the Pine Belt. The first was the Mission Readiness briefing hosted at the African-American Military History Museum with three retired admirals and generals of the armed forces. They introduced a report that supports the importance of early, high-quality childhood development and learning that helps children to succeed in school and later in life. Most importantly, the report supports and confirms that early learning is the key. The study looked at three program areas with a control group with and without early learning programs. Those without a high-quality early learning program were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for violent crimes by age 18, and had a 29 percent lower graduation rate. One study showed that students without a pre-k experience are 51 percent more likely to be retained. The main stake for the Mission Readiness group is that recruitment and retention challenges for the arm forces could return if America does not do a better job now of producing qualified individuals for the service. Their findings only reinforce my commitment to expanding and improving the early learning opportunities for the children of Hattiesburg.

Second, the Little Brown Jug Game: It was an outstanding display of two communities (Laurel and Hattiesburg) coming together in support of their school and community. As I watched the event unfold one would think of tension and strife, but to the contrary, I observed fellowship, respect and pride. I watched the police and security on hand, enjoying the event, knowing they were there only in case of an emergency. By allowing our students to participate in a well-organized game that exhibited teamwork and sportsmanship, we are giving them skills and examples that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, on and off the field. My hat is off to both the Laurel and Hattiesburg communities for setting and raising the standard for a quality family outing, such as high school football.

Third, the Pine Belt Leadership Summit: The summit was well attended by many leaders from across the region, including: political, faith-based, colleges and universities, k-12, and social services. I attended the second part of a two-part session. From my view, our charge is to develop an action plan for improvements around growth, sustainability and quality of life. The participants were divided into groups of eight or more to discuss the problems, the challenges to change and how to address the problems and opportunities we have for change. Quite naturally, the school system was listed as a problem. However, it was not a blame game session, but an opportunity to put solutions on the table. The summit ended with two action steps: 1. We appointed a small group, who will meet to select a goal(s) for a quick win for the region, and 2. Each participant will select a partner to meet monthly to expand on ideas. I am reminded of a quote by Dr. Joris Ray:

"Change occurs when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain to change."

We are facing a number of changes in Hattiesburg Public Schools and we are remaining focused on the needs of our students. I know that by keeping a student-centered focus, we are on a path to great things!

James Q. Bacchus

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