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School officials believe they can avoid state takeover

NATCHEZ — A Mississippi Department of Education official told Natchez-Adams School District board members there is no doubt the district can pull itself out of the “F” rating category to avoid a state takeover in September.

The Natchez Democrat reports that Morgantown Middle School and Natchez High School have received an “F” rating from the state for two consecutive years. Another “F” rating in September means the schools will be taken over by the state, which would consist of terminating the superintendent and local board members.

The two schools in the district are among approximately 50 schools in 35 school districts throughout the state that could be taken over next year, said Laura Jones, director of the MDE’s Office of School Improvement.

Jones said before this year, the state has only gotten to the three-year failing scenario three times, two of which required different responses than what would occur in the Natchez-Adams district.

The third situation in Yazoo City Municipal School District is one Jones hopes could become a model for how the state would give assistance to those schools or districts in need. Instead of firing all employees, Jones said Yazoo City High School was given a corrective action plan and a state adviser.

“The good thing is the local folks stay in control and hopefully make changes that are necessary, and so far Yazoo City is doing that,” Jones said. “We did remove their accreditation, which affected extracurricular activities, but if they continue to meet those criteria, by mid spring their accreditation will be restored and the school will be turned back to local control.”

Jones said the worst-case scenario at the Natchez-Adams schools is a state takeover.

“I want to try to put folks a little more at ease, not to say we should draw back the reins and slow down on what you’re doing because there still needs to be a distinctive sense of urgency.

“We want to make sure the staff and faculty at those two schools don’t get spooked and run away for fear they won’t have a job,” Jones said. ‘There’s nothing in the law that would preclude the department from hiring back the people that are doing a good job.

“If they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and growing children, they have no need to worry and no reason to be concerned.”

While Jones said MDE officials continue to pursue changes to the state law through the Legislature, there is no guarantee a scenario similar to that in Yazoo City would be implemented at other schools.

“We don’t argue with the premise of the law, because if you have a school failing children for three years, it ought to be shut down.

“We argue the fact that it should apply to schools going backward and not forward, and that we have to work out an executable timeline,” Jones said.


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