BLUE MOUNTAIN • “It’s a good thing we went into school improvement because now you have to stop and focus and say, ‘What is the problem here? And what can we do to … make this better for the kids?’” Melinda Marsalis, Federal Programs Director for Tippah County, said that it’s not all bad that Blue Mountain School has been told to form an Improvement P-16 Council after receiving an F rating last year. “I think it’s an excellent opportunity to take this school that has been operating as sort of an “okay’ school” and make it better.

When a school’s graduation rate drops below 60 percent, it is automatically put in a three-year improvement program. Blue Mountain was put in the program last year when their graduation rate dropped to 52 percent. After some initial delays, the school picked members for the council and held their first meeting on Monday, Dec. 9.

The council is comprised of members from six different categories: Community Organizations/Institutes of Higher Learning, Parents, Student Council Members, Community Leaders, Community Members, and School District Personnel. Blue Mountain’s graduation coach, Kelly Gates, explained that each person on the council was “handpicked to fall into one of those categories. And we tried to select people we knew were interested in education and seeing these kids succeed.”

Gates said that the council’s job is to look for weaknesses in the school and bring them to attention, as well as using their own connections to help the students make the transition from school to college or a job. They will be meeting monthly to discuss practical ways to achieve that goal.

As the mission statement says, their goal is to “create a school where our students can be part of a larger family … A family that is intentionally exposing them to the broader world, helping them discover and prepare for the career of their choice, and (like good parents) ensure exposure to a quality education…”

Marsalis emphasized “intentionally: that is the word right there.” The council’s job is to improve the school’s numbers, but more importantly, to make sure that each student has what they need to succeed.

The name of the program also hints at what it is designed to do: P-16 is short for Pre-Kindergarten through the 16th year of education. The program is intended to bring the community together to provide a support network that will help students not only finish high school, but also give them the resources they need to get through four years of college as well.

Blue Mountain School is already well on its way to improvement. Their rating this year went from an F to a B. Gates said, “It’s miraculous,” and Counselor Cheryl Bass credited the teachers. “When you see that [F rating], you’re like, ‘Okay, what can we do?’ And every teacher at every level worked really hard.”

Teacher Brent Grisham agreed. “Everyone was really motivated by that F,” he said.

Marsalis concluded, “I’m going to say that I feel like Blue Mountain is a successful school already. It may not show on the rubric … but it’s such a successful school because I go to all the schools in the district with my job, and nowhere are children as polite and mannerly. [They] look you in the eye and say ‘good morning’ and hold the door. To me, that’s more successful than anything you could ask for … All they’re missing is just the finishing touches to make sure they can go do whatever they want to do.”

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