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School takeover has yielded positives

OKOLONA — Some students and teachers say the state takeover of the Okolona School District two months ago was a wake-up call that has motivated academic performance, a newspaper reported.

Mike Vinson, former school superintendent in Rankin County and Tupelo, was placed as the conservator of the 650-student district plagued by accreditation violations, poor academic performance and financial problems.

Vinson has spent much of his first two months collecting data about the district, reviewing its finances and assessing its curriculum. Students and teachers say they’ve already noticed a difference.

Okolona High School Principal Barry Woods said the district is determined to improve its standing in the state accountability rankings. This year, the school was ranked “failing,” the bottom of seven categories.

“To do that, we can’t do things the way we’ve done them in the past,” Woods said. “We have to work harder and smarter.”

The district had four superintendents in the past three years. Robert Shinn, who has taught at the high school for the 13 years, said the continuity of the conservatorship has been important.

Vinson has corrected many of the district’s 33 accreditation violations, including publicizing graduation requirements, providing handbooks to students and developing job descriptions. He hopes to have all of them corrected by December.

The district will likely end this year in a financial hole and could have to borrow as much as $300,000 from a state emergency fund at the end of June.

Local tax revenues have been about $100,000 lower than expected, and state funding was cut about $325,000, Vinson said.

The district, which has about 80 employees, is aggressively seeking several federal grants and delaying until 2012 any major purchase that isn’t essential, Vinson said. Staff members who retire or resign will not be replaced, and the district has cut much of its travel.


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