Bridging Education and Employment: How this Mississippi School District Prepares Students for the ‘Real World’

June 30, 2021

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“If we could create an education system, what would that system look like?” Superintendent Chad Shealy is thinking practically about the endgame of K12 education. Looking at statistics for graduation rates, community college attrition, and even the alignment of bachelor’s degrees to employment, Shealy was disappointed. 

shealy bridge-03Too many students weren’t working in fields they had studied. Too many students were dropping out of community college. Looking around at his town on the banks of the Mississippi River, he knew something had to change. “All education leads somehow to employment,” says Shealy. “So, we’re going to get every student ready for college, career, and life.” 

Vicksburg-Warren School District’s exit strategy was born. 

Shealy explains the four-point exit strategy that makes up Vicksburg-Warren’s “Portrait of a Graduate.” “We want our graduates to be enrolled in a postsecondary institution because their goals are on the other side of college. We want them enlisted in one of the branches of the armed forces. We want them employed with a career–a viable wage-earning position when they graduate. Or to be an entrepreneur. Those are our four things.”

[See Also: Teacher Uses Picture Messaging for Classroom Behavior Improvement]

VWSD looked to the Franklin-Covey Leader in Me platform to help meet their needs. The Leader in Me Framework includes five core paradigms intended to teach leadership to every student, create a culture of student empowerment, and align systems to drive results in academics. 

The paradigms include some basic ideals that offer a different take on the old standards: 

  1. Everyone can be a leader vs. leadership is for the few
  2. Everyone has genius vs. a few people are gifted
  3. Change starts with me vs. to improve schools vs. the system has to change first
  4. Educators empower students to lead their learning vs. educators control and direct student learning
  5. Develop the whole person vs. focus solely on academic achievement

“Every one of our kids has a leadership notebook. They set personal goals and academic goals that align to their school goals.”

Christi Kilroy, Director of Communications for VWSD explains that students from kindergarten through 12th grade have individual goals called WIGs (wildly important goals). For instance, Kilroy explains, a kindergartener may have a personal goal to learn to tie his shoes. So he is asked what measures he will take to reach that goal? 

He might spend some time with Joey on the playground because he knows how to tie his shoes. He might also work with his dad each night for five minutes because his dad can tie shoes really well. This emphasis on goal setting, tracking, and reassessing is what the VWSD team believes will translate into better-prepared students ready for the world.

Also contained in “the notebook” is the tracking of leadership roles, such as being a classroom greeter, and celebrations, such as personal milestones. And parents can see the benefits at home. Christi describes a board member who told the story of his kindergartener encouraging siblings to employ a win-win strategy for problem-solving. That’s when he [board member] knew it was working.  

“It’s a culture. An embedded mindset that really makes the difference,” explains Kilroy.

Christi also explains they use SchoolStatus to help report on and track lead measures like attendance, communications, and parental involvement. 

“That's where the data of SchoolStatus becomes very important,” says Shealy.  “That's real data that's happening, that took place last year, two years or three years, potentially four years ago. It’s something that is legitimately going on today. And that's what you make your decisions based on.”

While some of the results of their years of emphasis on leadership skills and goal setting have been anecdotal, some have been measurable. 

According to a recent article in the Vicksburg Post, the Vicksburg Warren School District announced the latest graduation rates that showed 86.9 percent of students positioned to graduate as part of the Class of 2020 did so. Not only is that a historic high for the District, but it also surpasses the national average rate for the first time. 

“Economic development success for our community depends in part on the quality of our educational systems and the workforce they prepare. This achievement will certainly help us in selling our community to investors and in creating more and better jobs,” says the Vicksburg-Warren Economic Development Partnership CEO Pablo Diaz.

“By helping students connect with an exit strategy,” explains Superintendent Chad Shealy. “Enrolled, enlisted, entrepreneur, or employed with meaningful credentials, we are engaging them in relevant learning and building strong student/teacher relationships.”

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SchoolStatus is the district-wide communication tool that integrates key student data in order to increase communication among educators, district administrators, and student families. The company’s solution aggregates individual student data, such as state assessments, attendance, and grades in an easy-to-visualize format and offers the option to communicate with student families via call, text, or email. Through SchoolStatus, millions of communications have occurred on the classroom, campus, and district level. For more information about SchoolStatus, visit www.schoolstatus.com. 

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