Can we prove perception wrong?

Published 12:01am Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It only took two meetings for a newly formed group of community members to stumble upon a key difference of opinions about our local public and private schools.

Are the private schools better than the public schools?

It’s a no-brainer question to parents paying to send their kids to private school, I imagine.

And the community leader who surmised that private is indeed better than public fits in that paying-parent group.

But a school board member across the table was quick to take offense, as I’d hope he would.

The public schools offer the same quality education students at private schools can get, the board member argued.

In the name of working together and sidestepping bickering to get to problem solving, the group of people invited to the table by the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee quickly moved on from the point.

It was the right move in the moment, but posing the question — Is private better? — to the public is something that will ultimately be necessary.

The chamber group — of which, in full disclosure, I am a member — knows that we’d be smart to begin changing the answer before we ask the question.

Different members of the chamber group have different passions they’d like to see tackled first in our public schools — new buildings, safety, curriculum, character building, etc.

All are needed, but my personal passion — one I’ve had since I moved to town and started covering the public schools — is public perception.

A job as a newspaper reporter takes you a lot of places — high above the earth in a hot-air balloon, below the city in hidden canals, behind closed doors and into very public places.

No one needs a press pass to visit our local public schools, but few beyond students, teachers and parents ever make the trip.

After a few visits to the public schools and a few visits to the private schools my initial question — the one asked at the meeting — isn’t simply a no-brainer anymore.

As a general rule, public schools have more money to buy equipment, fuel special programs like a marching band and construct new buildings.

They can also typically attract better-trained teachers and administrators.

And they are held accountable in almost every way.

In my experience, there wasn’t much difference in a fourth-grade class at McLaurin Elementary and a fourth-grade class at Cathedral.

Yet, public perception wields infinitely more power than all those things.

The perception is that private is better — here and elsewhere — and, particularly in Natchez, that perception is spiraling out of control.

The groups meeting in town hope to begin tackling that problem from every angle, and we all acknowledge that safety and discipline are at the top of the to-fix list.

Those two things are likely what sway public perception more than academics and teacher quality.

Then, the district needs a serious marketing campaign sharing the stories of dozens of recent grads that are succeeding at the same or a higher level than private school graduates.

New schools are in order, as is a willingness by more in the community to mentor children.

But until then, the true answer to the question doesn’t matter, since perception will win.

If we change perception, we change the schools.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3511 or

  • Anonymous

    Test Scores.

  • Anonymous

    Says the person with no kids.  Perspective, not perception.

  • Anonymous

    Test scores, language, the way the kids act in school, dropout rate, parental involvement. You could go on and on about the difference but I don’t think you could be convinced. I don’t think it is a question of Public or Private but a question of the type of PARENTS. I now live in Northwest Arkansas and the Public schools here are great. The parents are involved in the schools, the test scores are good and the schools are clean and in good shape. The main difference I can see is the type of people using the public schools. Druggies and thugs don’t care about schools.

  • Anonymous

    Julie, you can go to the slums of any area and paint all the building there, what you have then is only a fresh coat of paint. It’s still the SLUMS. The trouble is still alive. To start with, we need to stop the waste of tax payers money with this busing idea and re-open neighborhood schools. Let the kids walk to school. There are many advantages of neighborhood schooling. Much more so than now. It’s time to act with smarts and not with the idea of a long gone someone who thought it was a good idea for all this busing and combining schools. It hasn’t worked, and never will, the public school system in Natchez is completely broken and needs to be fixed.

  • khakirat

     Julie there is no way you can compare the difference between McLaurin and Cathedral fourth grade as the same for Cathedral is way ahead and all know this as a fact!! You need to get your facts in line before printing in the ND for as test scores and etc. attaboy said it like it should be so heed it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    It is not at all “public vs. private” as this article implies.  It is failed culture vs. a successful culture.

    I used to live in NW AR.  It’s not just the schools.  I remember being new there and walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot and noticing all the keys hanging from vehicle ignitions.  People not only didn’t lock their car doors, they left the keys in the ignition because they knew nobody would steal them.  I’m not sure I ever locked the door to my house when I was away.  Crime was just that rare.  The only real difference between here and there is racial demographics.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Now Crak, you are promoting a mass exodus of the Natchez thugs to an area with “low hanging fruit” as you say with all those keys in the ignition.  Attaboy isn’t gong to like you much after this post gets him new neighbors! However, it may rebalance our population in the process and solve Joyce’s dilemma..

  • Rose T

    I am appalled!  The teachers in the public schools are top notch. Being a single parent, I cannot afford private schooling, which I would like for one reason and one reason only. It is not the quality of the teachers or the lesson plans, it’s the attitude and behavior of the students who attend the public school system. I know why Julie went to the 4th grade to do her study of this topic. Fourth graders are still well behaved. My daughter who is still enrolled in the Adams County public school system is well behaved and makes great grades. Yes she is a typical teen and does try to break some of the rules, however if chewing gum is the worst thing she does at school compared to what I have seen, I will reserve the spanking and resort to less severe form of punishment. If the gum chewing problem persists, then we will move to a more severe form. Parents today, over look the little things, which serves to show that the child that,  I can get away with this, can I get away with more? As they get older, the parents / teachers let the child get away with more.. Rules are rules, they must be enforced consistently. It confuses a teen when one teacher allows the children to chew gum and other teachers do not. How do I know this? I talk to my teen. She does not understand why this one teacher is so dead set against chewing gum when all her other teachers do not seem to care if she does or not.  Frankly I could care less if my child chews gum in class or not. What I do care about is the rule is (school wide) you do not chew gum therefore, I do not want my child breaking the rule period, end of subject. Hopefully, this will instill in her the motivation to obey the laws of this land later in life. Now, I invite you to go to the public schools and request to sit in the office for an hour or two and watch the parade of children who are escorted into the office for a visit with the principal for breaking rules such as cursing, fighting, etc.. Why do they continue to be escorted into the office? Because they know that there will be little or no consequences to be paid for their behavior. This has come from our government and parents alike. How dare you spank my child!  Well I make it clear to the principals and teachers alike, the law may not allow you to spank my child, but I darned sure can. Call me and I will come to the school with belt in hand! The problems in our public school were not created by the teachers, they were created by the parents and our own government. 

  • Anonymous

    Attaboy ain’t worrying about the thugs moving up here. I carry a Glock 40, with a permit, and I darn well know how to use it. That is one other reason this area is still a good place to live. You don’t know who is going to be armed so thieves kind of don’t go here. Those pants below the crack, drug dealing, dumba**, Natchez public school products would stand out around here like a midget on a basketball team. The cops wouldn’t have any trouble watching the troublemakers.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Julie.  But a lot of the people paying the tuition will never be convinced.