Rural School Basics

By Del Stover

When the local elementary school needed a new playground, parents in Booneville, Miss., put years of work into raising the money to replace rusty swings and slides with safer, modern playground equipment. A local contractor volunteered to landscape the site, and teachers donned work clothes one day to spread a new ground cover of wood chips.

A few years have passed. But officials still tell the story to underscore the community’s strong support for its public schools -- support that continues today with the PTO supplying classrooms with electronic whiteboards and other classroom technology that the district is hard-pressed to afford.

“People believe in what we’re doing,” says Martha Spearman, the district’s director of federal programs. “They support it.”

As well they should. In recent years, the 1,300-student district has ranked among the top under Mississippi’s accountability model, with test scores higher than many surrounding systems. Booneville High has been named a STAR school -- the state’s highest rating. What’s more, the district has made significant strides over the past decade to overcome a troublesome dropout rate and boost graduation rates.

Just as impressively, the district managed this despite per-pupil spending that’s significantly below the national average.

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