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Jennings schools fare well on controversial performance scale

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Bobbi Jo Wood works diligently on her reading and writing skills in Mr Smith's 6th grade Scipio Elementary class (Keith Griner, for The Republic)
Bobbi Jo Wood works diligently on her reading and writing skills in Mr Smith's 6th grade Scipio Elementary class (Keith Griner, for The Republic)

Jennings County Middle School improved from an F to a C, according to the state’s school grading system, and five of the six public elementary schools in Jennings County School Corp. received an A.

Superintendent Terry Sargent said he’s very pleased with the scores in the school district and thinks the school district is becoming one of the best in southern Indiana.

However, Sargent also thinks the A-F Accountability system is flawed and a new grading system should be implemented.

“The A-F system is detrimental to schools and communities,” Sargent said, because the simple letter grades don’t capture all the nuances of teaching and learning, and the stigma of the grades can impact community pride and economic development.

Sargent also said it’s unfair to ask schools to be more accountable at a time when the state is taking money away from public schools and using taxpayer dollars to support student vouchers to private schools. Jennings schools suffered a $1.3 million drop in state funding this year, he said.

Nonetheless, Sargent thinks the school district’s efforts to improve education are paying dividends, reflected in solid letter grades.

Jennings County Middle School earned an F in 2011 and 2012 before jumping to a C this year.

“The teachers got on board with an innovative program,” Sargent said.

Staff members were sent to the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta to learn Clark’s methodology. The academy, a private, nonprofit middle school, emphasizes technology, field trips, community partnerships, discipline, respect and school pride, among other standards.

Jennings school officials said the consecutive F’s by the one and only middle school in the county prompted them to take action to help the students.

“It’s helped kids to focus on their studies and learn the importance of school. We implemented it in the middle school, and it’s had an amazing effect on the kids,” Sargent said.

Student morale at the middle school is much better, he added.

The district also has increased the amount of dual-credit opportunities with colleges, such as Ivy Tech Community College, to the point that a student potentially can earn an associate degree before graduating from high school.

The district’s other schools continued to score well on the A-F Accountability system in its three years of existence.

Hayden and Brush Creek elementary schools earned an A for the third consecutive year. Sand Creek and North Vernon improved from B to an A. Scipio jumped from a C to an A. Graham Creek received a B after earning A’s the previous two years.

Jennings County High School earned a C for the third year in a row.

St. Mary’s, a private Catholic elementary and middle school in North Vernon, earned a B after receiving an A the previous two years.

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