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School board members tour local facilities

Natchez-Adams School District school board member David Troutman cranes his neck from behind Robert Lewis Middle School assistant principal Zandra McDonald and Natchez-Adams School District school board member Thelma Newsome to peer through a classroom door to see where steel beams have been installed in a classroom to help correct structural problems in the school. (Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — It wasn’t scientific, but when Robert Lewis Middle School Assistant Principal Samuel Brantley placed a basketball on the edge of a classroom floor and school board members watched it roll toward the center of the classroom, they got the point of the experiment.

“We need some new schools,” Natchez-Adams School Board President Wayne Barnett said.

NASD school board members toured every school campus within the district Wednesday — a tour Barnett said would help members make more informed decisions at the boardroom table.

Robert Lewis was second stop on the all-day adventure, and Brantley used a basketball to demonstrate a problem with sagging floors, which the board only heard about at their February board meeting.

While an overhaul of all the school buildings would be nice, Barnett recognized it’s not feasible, at least not all at once.

“(The district) can’t do everything we need to do (to upgrade facilities),” Barnett said. “We have to set priorities.”

Barnett said he hoped first-hand knowledge board members gained from the campus walkthroughs would help them prioritize facility upgrades.

The school board’s newest member, Tim Blalock, toured some of the facilities for the first time as a board member, but he said it wasn’t his first walk down many of the halls.

As a former student at Natchez High School and McLaurin Elementary School and a parent of children at West Primary and Frazier Primary schools, Blalock said he’s familiar with many of the campuses.

After pointing out some cracks in the concrete walls at Robert Lewis, Blalock remarked it was a shame one of the only schools with an interior layout had structural damage.

Barnett said each of the board members took notes and planned to sit and compare sometime soon. By nearly 6 p.m., their tour was still ongoing during their final stop at the Braden Administrative Building.

While the tour enlightened board members to some existing problems with facilities — for example, steel beams at Natchez High School were in dire need of a paint job — it also pointed out some bright spots.

Barnett said Central Alternative School, where students attend after they are removed from other schools for behavior problems, was the cleanest.

“When you see the janitor there, you see why,” Barnett said. “She takes so much pride.”

Barnett said the quality of the facilities’ employees, from janitorial positions to cafeteria, impressed him.

Additionally, Barnett said he learned first-hand that the school district has all the equipment and tools it needs to succeed, including smart boards, computers and other technology.

Despite encountering much-needed repairs and touch ups, the experience was a good one, Barnett said.

“We can command our staff for doing a good job for what they have to work with,” he said.

Barnett said the school board intends to take an all-campus tour annually, and it’s something he said they probably should have been doing as a group in the past. Barnett said that’s especially true since the quality of the facilities can affect student achievement.

Parents play a vital role in demanding high performance from their children at school, Barnett said, but the community’s role is an important one, too.

“When students show up at a dilapidated building, they get the feeling nobody really cares,” he said.

“But when (the district) puts forth its best foot, it shows (students) that the community cares what I do, and that’s just the first step.”

 

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