Okolona High School students earn highest scores in Mississippi on Algebra I state test

OKOLONA, Miss. (WCBI) – Okolona High School learned in June that its students earned the highest test scores in Mississippi on the Algebra I State Assessment.

There are teachers at Okolona High School, like Barbara Lucas, who still remember 2010 when the state had to step in and take conservatorship of the Okolona Separate School District after getting a failing rating.

Lucas says she was on her way home during the summer when she got a call from the principal with the test results.

“He was like, ‘Pullover.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ and he said ‘Pullover,'” Lucas says.

Students need to score at least a three on the Mississippi Department of Education’s state tests for a passing grade. Every student in Lucas’s class scored a four or higher.

“I said, ‘All of them?'” she says, describing her reaction. “He was like, ‘Every single one of them.’ I wanted to cry but I had to drive home.'”

Lucas, who has spent nearly 20 years as a teacher, says that she has never had a group of students so excited about a test.

“We practiced and we practiced and we practiced,” she says. “I’ve never seen children super excited about testing and wanting to know the outcome of their testing.”

“Every time they come back to school, (they ask) ‘Mr. Watkins, is my test back? Mr. Watkins, what’d I make on my test?'” says principal Michael Watkins. “They will send messages through email.”

Lucas says that her class of 9th and 10th graders earned their scores through hours of hard work. But she also credits Watkins, who she says inspired them to buy into his motto, “Level Up.”

“I’ve never seen the mindset of a child change like (it did) this year,” she says.

“With Ms. Lucas’s class last year, they were able to level up because everybody wanted it for themselves,” Watkins says.

Watkins says that this motto is about constantly pushing to be better than before and raising students’ expectations for themselves about what they can achieve.

“I have some of the smartest kids in the school,” Lucas says. “But if you don’t make a child believe that they can, they won’t.”

Watkins says they plan on honoring the students during a special ceremony Friday night during halftime of the Chieftains’ football game.

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