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Schools to reorganize by fall; middle school to close

NATCHEZ — Starting in August, many public school children will board the bus for a school closer to home, and every student will return to the same campus for longer than a two-year-run.

After years of thought, thousands spent on a study, several months of debate and a few weeks of planning, the Natchez-Adams School Board decided Thursday to transition to residentially zoned elementary schools — similar neighborhood schools — with one quick, unanimous vote.

“This is the biggest vote we’ve taken in long time,” Board Member David Troutman said after offering the motion.

With only days left in the school year, administrators, teachers, custodial and maintenance staff will work to reorganize campuses before a yet-to-be-determined group of students shows up with pencils sharpened in August.

The board voted at its regular meeting to make the following changes starting in the 2012-2013 school year:

4 West Primary, Frazier Primary and McLaurin Elementary schools will be kindergarten to fifth grade schools serving students according to their residential location.

4 Morgantown Elementary School will be the middle school for grades six through eight.

4 A ninth-grade academy will be established on the campus of Natchez High School as a school within a school, with it’s own principal. The remainder of the Natchez High campus will serve grades 10 through 12.

4 The campus of Robert Lewis Middle School will be unused as a school during the 2012-2013 school year. The campus will be renovated to serve as a magnet school geared toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics for either grades seven through 12 or grades nine through 12 for the 2013-2014 school year.

Board member Thelma Newsome commended Johnson and her staff for gathering the information quickly to make the changes happen over the summer.

“I know everything done seems to be very fast-paced,” Newsome said. “But I appreciate (that the administration) took the time and brought (the request) back to us in a manner that we could digest easily.”

Currently, West Primary serves pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, Frazier Primary serves first and second grades, McLaurin serves third and fourth grades, Morgantown serves fifth and sixth grades, Robert Lewis serves seventh and eighth grades and Natchez High serves ninth through 12th grades.

Currently, a student who attended school for 13 years in the district would attend school at all six campuses. With the changes, students will attend schools on three campuses.

The day after school ends, many teachers will bid their students goodbye and good luck and stick around to pack up their classrooms, but Interim Superintendent Joyce Johnson said she’s not yet sure where the boxes will be headed.

Johnson said after Thursday’s board meeting she plans to meet today with principals to discuss the changes.

“We have lots of decisions to make,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she and other district administrators avoided setting decisions in stone before receiving the board’s approval to reorganize.

Johnson said she does know, however, that physical moves will begin to be made the day after school gets out, and the transition will be complete before the school year starts in August.

Among other factors, the administration must meet with Durham School Services to discuss school bus schedules before determining where the lines are drawn to indicate if a child attends West, Frazier or McLaurin, she said.

To inform the public about the changes, Johnson said, the district will send letters home, compose a press release and update the process on the district’s website by early June, tentatively.

Troutman suggested the district submit regular updates on the process to the public in the form of a Top of the Morning in the The Natchez Democrat.

Principals have not yet been assigned schools, Johnson said. And teachers at West, Frazier, McLaurin and Morgantown will stay with the grade levels they currently teach, Johnson said. But it’s not yet been determined at which schools they will be.

“(Reorganization) is going to be a hard thing, but it’s going to be a good thing,” Board President Wayne Barnett said.

The last time schools were reorganized was for the 2005-2006 school year. Before that, West and Frazier served pre-K through first-graders and Morgantown and McLaurin served second- through sixth-graders.

Board members and administrators discussed at previous meetings how statistics show that K-5 schools are the most effective learning environments.

Housing grades six through eight at Morgantown works well since the campus is well equipped to handle the number of students. Additionally the building layout is conducive to team teaching, which is a middle school concept.

The purpose of the ninth-grade academy, according to a pro and con sheet the administration designed for the board to review, is to provide a successful transition to high school, decrease drop-out rates and create an opportunity for “belonging.”

Cons include allocation of federal funds and the cost of restructuring the district. The last request the board approved in the reorganization package was to work with the NASD board and finance department to find funds to make the transition for reorganization possible.

In other school news:

Board member Tim Blalock said the school board has narrowed its search for a new superintendent to three candidates. The new superintendent could be named as early as next week.