If you build it, they will come


If there’s one thing I learned from being immersed in the real estate industry for nearly five years, parents want to move close to the best elementary schools.

According to the first round of “third grade gate” test scores released last week, it can be argued that Sunflower County’s elementary schools are among the best in this region.

All six elementary schools beat expectations during the April testing period, scoring a 79 percent pass rate. That is an anomaly in the Delta.

Last year, those numbers were much higher, locally and statewide, due to the fact that the standards were lower. Students were allowed to pass from third grade to fourth grade with just a score of 2 out of 5 on the test.

Third graders this year had to score a 3 to pass, and many predicted more students throughout the state would fail to reach the fourth grade.

So far, those predictions have come true, especially in the Delta, where some districts have seen as low as 32 percent pass rates on this year’s test.

Last June, after the second round of testing, Sunflower County’s students had an overwhelming pass rate on the test. Being a low-performing district (F rating), it was predicted they and others like them would drop below a 65 percent pass rate on the first round.

It is obvious that SCCSD has something cooking in a good way when it comes to preparing elementary students for the next level.

This should bode well for the district’s overall rating over the next several years as these same students progress through high school.

Some in the community are not ready to shed the cynicism that comes with seeing good reports like this. That’s fair, considering the district has long been plagued by sub-par test scores, including the ACT, which still cause considerable frustrations when recruiting new industry to the area.

But this might be the time to start taking notice and action.

This paper has talked at length about Sunflower County’s bleeding population numbers. Many families have fled the county and the Delta entirely in order to seek better education and job opportunities elsewhere.

Some community leaders decry this paper’s coverage of crime and other stories that might not be viewed as positive recruitment tools for potential businesses, but some of the same folks are silent when there’s noticeable progress within the local school district.

I’ve said multiple times, and I stand by this, that the formula to bringing more jobs to this county starts with stemming the population decline.

Sunflower County needs to make the district’s progress with elementary students part of its messaging.

Site selectors for large industrial companies may not be overly interested in how the county’s third graders are doing on their state tests, but neighboring parents would be very interested to know that they could move 10, 20 or 30 miles down the road from a school with a 40 percent pass rate to a school with an 88 percent pass rate on the third grade test.

If that leads to a snowball effect, Sunflower County might just start growing in population again.

And that’s what industries are looking for.

Sure, they want higher ACT scores, better graduation rates and more college graduates, but they also want a bigger pool of people to hire from.

According to the U.S. Census, the hiring pool in Sunflower County has been steadily shrinking for the past 10 years.

The hopes are that by the time the current class of third graders makes it through high school, all of the above benchmarks will be better, making industrial recruitment an even better prospect.

Sunflower County needs to leverage all of the positive news it can to bring people back to the area.

The worst thing that could come of the third graders’ recent success rate is that the district becomes the “best kept secret in the Delta.”

Instead, we need to be that place where families can come to in order to get the best possible education for their children.

Population is the ultimate answer to our low jobs growth. If you build it, they will come.


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