By Alyssa Schnugg
The Oxford School District has ranked one of the state’s top school districts for several years, but now the district wants to reach higher and make sure all students succeed—even those not seeking a traditional college path.
To achieve this, the district is applying to the Mississippi Department of Education to be a District of Innovation. The application gives school districts relief from certain accreditation standards in order to encourage innovative practices in Mississippi schools.
District of Innovation designation gives school districts additional flexibility in several areas governed by the Mississippi Department of Education. School districts that create programs to better engage students in learning through innovative structures that are limited by state statute are encouraged to work with the Mississippi Department of Education to create an innovative plan.
Districts of Innovation are granted waivers to operate outside of MDE regulations for school policies. The OSD will be seeking waivers from the seat time policy, teacher certification requirements to allow trade professionals to teach career-oriented classes or the Carnegie unit model for classroom credits.
According to Assistant Superintendent Bradley Roberson during the Board’s regular meeting Monday, the goals of the district and being a District of Innovation include providing a personalized learning pathway for all OSD students and teachers; providing career focus opportunities via business and industry mentorships and internships inside and outside of the educational setting and to provide college focus opportunities via post-secondary options including access to junior college matriculation and IHL preparation for all students.
Some of the initiatives the district may look at implementing, should it receive the DOI designation, include Early College, Middle College, Career Academies and having a modified academic calendar.
Early College would be a small, independent high school that is usually located on a partnering college campus or a location other than a traditional high school campus. The goal of an early college high school is for students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from the partnering college. Students would graduate from Oxford High School with a high school diploma and an associates degree from Northwest Mississippi Community College.
Middle College is a dual credit/dual enrollment program run by a school district and a partnering college that offers high school students a large choice of dual credit and dual enrollment classes. Upperclassmen are encouraged to take as many classes in a liberal-arts, pre-IHL program or a career-oriented program of study as possible. These students are supported by a high school/transitional counselor and are monitored closely to ensure that they are meeting college academic expectations.
A Career Academy is a small learning community, comprising a group of students within the larger high school who take classes together for at least two years, taught by a team of teachers from different disciplines focused on a career pathway—for example, engineering. The academy delivers a college-preparatory curriculum with a career theme, enabling students to see relationships among academic subjects and their applications to a broad field of work.
“It’s a great resource for our students who might not want to go to college, but there’s nothing to say a kid who wants to go to a college would not want to be in the career academy as well and that’s fine, we want that,” Roberson said.
A Modified School Calendar would divide the school year into quarters of an equal length with intersessions of similar length, which would greatly increase student retention while giving additional time to remediate students in need of academic support, officials said.
“I don’t want this to scare anyone,” Roberson said Monday. “This is to just make sure that learning is a constant. We can’t allow time to dictate the success of any of our students.”
Roberson said a modified school calendar, if approved by the Board of Trustees in the future, would be modeled to fit the needs of the OSD and not necessarily how other school districts, like Corinth, have modified their school calendar.
While the initiatives are in the application for the DOI, Roberson said any policy changes will still need to be approved by the board and that the initiatives are ideas the district may consider.
“We’re not holding ourselves to anything,” he told the board members.
The board voted to approve a resolution in support of the school district submitting the DOI application which is due Monday. The school district will learn if it received the designation and waivers in February.
The entire Board of Trustees meeting can be viewed here.