Jackson schools known for high academic standards

Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Students rip off paper to unveil a new, 12-panel mural in the Jackson Junior High cafeteria Monday afternoon, January 5, 2009, in Jackson. (Kit Doyle)

Jackson's school district is a source of pride for those who live in the town. Much has been made in recent years about the high school's building improvement. Much is made about the football team, the marching band and the choir. But the district's primary responsibility -- academic achievement -- is also held to high standards.

The high school in 2009 scored higher than the state average on ACT testing for the 16th consecutive year, and in 2008 it beat state averages on graduation, attendance, college placement rates and numbers of students who take the ACT. Jackson also has a higher number than the state average of graduates who attend a four-year college.

In 2008, none of Jackson's nine schools was required to be in a level of improvement as held to the standards of the federal government's No Child Left Behind program, based partially on state test scores. The district's student-to-teacher ratio in 2008 was 20 to 1.

Assistant superintendent Dr. Rita Fisher said the academic success of the students has a lot to do with the community.

"The importance that the parents put on education is one thing that allows our district to truly have a partnership with parents and community. We can't do it by ourselves, and I think that is part of the picture," said Fisher.

"We have a really strong group of students, and our faculty has high expectations for them," she said. "You'll find in any building in the district that our teachers work very hard during, before and after school to make sure that our students complete high school."

District superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson said parent groups and the booster clubs are examples for how to support Jackson students.

"People in the community continue to donate time and money to the school because it is something they have always done here. We find we have support in all types of activities from parents and grandparents, the community, people who want to show support for the students to work hard and continue a longtime tradition," Anderson said.

Faculty communication is an important aspect of the district and vital to student success. The district has implemented communication tools to improve student performance known as "professional learning communities," consisting of leadership teams for each building in the district. The teams organize professional development training, develop curriculum and plan building events.

Fisher said the teams meet by grade level or subject area once a week for 50 minutes to address how the faculty can get students to learn, plan strategies to make sure the students learn what they need, how to address problems and what to plan next for students who are ready to move on.

The method attempts to assure the district has professionals who are always learning new teaching strategies.

The district includes six elementary schools, a middle school, a junior high school and a high school.

New programs

Expansion of services and programs for students in Jackson has grown recently. One program, called A+, offers students free tuition to a Missouri community college or other two-year higher education program, based on the completion of the program's requirements while the students are still in high school. The graduating class of 2010 will be the first eligible to take advantage of the program.

Another initiative that has proved to be successful for students has been a focus on silent reading programs and daily advisory periods for high school students. Every afternoon the high school has a period of "quiet time" throughout the buildings, much like a campuswide study hall, where students can work on a quiet activity such as reading or doing homework. Fisher said the district wanted to offer more reading instruction for younger target groups and more reading opportunity for older students.

"We realized students at the secondary level weren't reading as much as they could be, and should be," Fisher said.

"There has to be an opportunity for them to do that, to go along with a good curriculum in all their classes."

Additionally, over the past year the district has expanded the preschool program and added a new website as part of a technology initiative, that Fisher said they had tried to make as user-friendly as possible for students, faculty, staff and parents.

Map of pertinent addresses