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Expert discusses benefits of restructuring schools

NATCHEZ — An outsider from the Natchez-Adams School District — and the Miss-Lou — said Thursday that research suggests schools educate children best when grade levels are organized much differently than the way the local public schools are currently structured.

The NASD school board recently hired educational and architectural consultant Gary Bailey of the Bailey Education Group to conduct an education organization and facility study of the district.

As part of the study, Bailey hosted a community meeting at the auditorium in the Braden Administrative Building.

During a pro and con brainstorming session about school buildings, one attendee said she thought the existing school organization works well the way it is.

In response, Bettye Bell, the NASD school instruction improvement coordinator asked Bailey to give the group information about what research suggests regarding grade organization.

Bailey said research shows schools that serve kindergarten through fifth grade provide the best learning environments.

“Research, hands down (says) K-5 environments, with small, nurturing environments (are the best),” Bailey said.

“Keep them together for six years.”

Bailey said research suggests the best structure for middle schools is grades six through eight — or arguably seventh through eighth — on one campus, with each grade in separate quarters of the same campus.

“So they’re taught in a team environment,” he said of the middle school structure.

Bailey said research says high schools work best to include ninth through 12th grades.

“Anything short of that is compromise that doesn’t work,” Bailey said of the high school structure.

He added that an emerging trend is to separate ninth graders at high schools from the rest of the grades but on the same campus, so ninth graders have some group isolation during the students’ transition to high school.

Currently, the schools are set up so each student attends each school at one point, with kindergarten at West Primary School, first and second grade at Frazier Primary School, third and fourth grade at McLaurin Elementary School, fifth and sixth grade at Morgantown Elementary School, seventh and eighth grade at Robert Lewis Middle School and ninth through 12th grades at Natchez High School.

Toni Martin, a teacher at Morgantown Elementary School, discussed negative aspects of the current grade level organization.

“Students don’t have a sense of belonging anymore,” Martin said.

She added schools would function better and the staff and students would be better connected if one campus served multiple grade levels.

Bailey also said when children switch schools every two years at a young age, it can be difficult for them to adjust to the changes.

Shalanda White, also a teacher at Morgantown, agreed with Bailey’s statement that transportation issues caused by the current grade-level organization can be “torture,” as Bailey referred to it.

“(Some students) trek to West (Primary) from Cranfield. They get up with the chickens…” White said.

“That plays a part — that baby is tired when he or she goes to school.”

Bailey also asked for feedback about the structural condition of the buildings.

When Bailey asked the crowd which school buildings the community would object to being torn down because they had a “sacred” significance or created a sense of pride, the crowd responded with silence.