Demopolis City School district in top 10 for student growth

Published 12:04 am Tuesday, November 8, 2022

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The Demopolis City School System has a lot to be proud of at the moment. The school system was recently ranked among the top schools in the nation for educational improvement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent study by the University of Stanford in California and Harvard University in Massachusetts determined from 3,700 schools across the U.S. how well schools did at retaining, growing, and losing ground in education amongst K-12 districts. The vast majority of the school districts showed dramatic losses in learning with a small percentage nationwide showing growth in the past year.

Demopolis was among the top 10 schools in the country to show a growth in math amongst all its students. DCS also had the highest (#1 in the nation) growth among African American students of any of the 3,700 schools in the study.

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“Achievement is one thing. We’re not saying that our scores are higher than Mountain Brook or higher than some elite school in Chicago. But what it does say, is that the measure of a teacher is how much you’re growing your students,” said Superintendent Tony Willis. “For some of those kids that come in at a 28 on the ACT, and when they leave, they’re still at 28. But growth is what measures are you doing the job.”

Alabama overall performed extremely well and led the nation in maintaining math and reading learning during the height of the pandemic. The other top ranked schools were Piedmont, Andalusia, Boaz, Opp, Saraland, Arab, Mohave Valley Elementary District in Arizona, Needville ISD in Texas, and West Central School District 49-7, San Diego.

DCS ranked 10th in the nation for growth in math, in reading the system was ranked 89th. Willis said that while 89th may not sound great at first, 89th out of 3,700 school districts is the top 2.4 percent.

“So you’re in the 98th percentile on reading, and you’re in the top 10 in the nation on math. But then when I looked at some of the schools that were ahead of us in math, most of them were very little diversity,” said Willis. “If you look at our African American students, we were number one in the nation. Our African American students showed more growth than any other school district in the nation, and were ranked fourth reading.”

Willis attributes Demopolis’ success to the fact that it didn’t spend too much time on virtual school like other districts did. But he also said it comes from the hard work of teachers who refused to let the pandemic impede their teaching.

“Our teachers are working their tails off. We came in and said we’re going to have high expectations, we’re going to be dedicated, and have bell-to-bell instruction,” said Willis. “There are a lot of pieces that went into it. And I think when people work really hard they deserve a pat on the back.”

Willis said he has spoken with other superintendents from districts involved in the study such as Hawaii, who were number one in the nation for growth as a state, and Texas, which had some schools that were struggling.

“It takes a village, and our success comes from our whole staff. Our custodians, our cafeteria workers, our classroom teachers, and most of all, the kids,” said Willis. “They have to do the work to get these scores. Their teachers can lead them and guide them in that direction, but you have to have students to buckle down and put their best foot forward.”