Planned chaos calming before first dayPublished 12:07am Saturday, August 18, 2012
NATCHEZ — Organized chaos is the best way Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Frederick Hill can describe reorganizing several schools in the district in just three short months.
“I’ve been on the front and back end of several school district reorganizations, but it usually takes a year or a year and a half,” Hill said. “That our staff was able to accomplish a task this major in such a short time is just amazing to me.
“To some people it looked like madness because people were all over the place doing everything, but everyone knew their roles — it was organized chaos.”
The decision to reorganize the schools was made earlier this year and NASD Director of Operations Larnell Ford said teachers were told to strip their classrooms down to the bare walls before leaving for summer vacation.
“We sat for a long time in the board room to come up with a master plan to incorporate all the logistics before we did anything,” Ford said. “And since we knew time was not in our favor, we said the whole time, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right the first time.’”
The reorganization proposal resulted in three residentially-zoned schools for kindergarten through fifth grades at West, Frazier and McLaurin elementary schools and a middle school at Morgantown Middle School for the sixth through eighth grades.
Natchez High School remained as a central high school, but now has a separate ninth-grade academy with its own principal at the campus.
Robert Lewis Middle School won’t be used during the 2012-2013 school year, but will be renovated to serve as a science and technology magnet school for grades seven through 12 or grades nine through 12 for the 2013-2014 school year.
The school board voted in the spring to delay the start of school until Aug. 20 to accommodate the changes.
Since the three elementary schools had more experience educating children in the range of kindergarten through fifth grade, Ford said the master plan first focused on Morgantown Middle School.
“It worked out well in moving chairs, desks and other pieces of furniture from Robert Lewis to Morgantown because those were all grade appropriate,” Ford said. “And since Morgantown once served as a middle school years ago, some amenities like commodes were already there.”
Most of the tables and desks already at Morgantown were adjustable, so only moving chairs from Robert Lewis for the new middle school students was necessary, Ford said. The other challenges were accommodating the new groups of students coming to each elementary school, Ford said.
“West needed some more work than the others because it was getting first through fifth graders that it didn’t have before,” Ford said. “There, the commodes were smaller for the older students, so we did install some larger commodes there.
“The custodians and maintenance staff worked very hard to accommodate all those changes.”
Apart from furniture, Ford said the other challenge was cataloging, labeling and distributing all the books across all the schools.
Books at each school were organized by grade and split into even numbers for their future destination, Ford said.
“For instance, we took all the fifth-grade books that were at Morgantown, organized those and split them equally between the three elementary schools,” Ford said. “After that, it was just a matter of moving all the heavy boxes filled with books.”
Some pieces of technologically advanced equipment had to be moved by the education companies, Hill said.
“GSI came in and moved all the Promethean boards earlier this week,” Hill said. “Those had to be recalibrated and reconfigured, so they came out to do those moves.”
And as the days before school started to wind down, Hill said the school district made teams of employees to conduct periodic sweeps of each school.
“We’ve been checking all the schools all this week,” Hill said. “So far, so good.”
Since NHS wasn’t receiving additional students from different grades, Ford said the school just got the usual summer maintenance and repairs this year. And even though his teams have made multiple sweeps of all the schools checking ever details, Hill said it’s likely he won’t get much sleep Sunday night.
“I’ll be up all night,” Hill said. “The amount of hard work and dedication put in by all the employees is an indication of how committed they were to getting this done.”
Ford said he knows he will sleep just fine after that first day of school.
“The real story is going to be how things go on Monday,” Ford said. “Of course we’re going to have some small issues, but those will be ironed out over time.
“It’s like I told all the staff when we first started, ‘You’re probably going to hate me through the process, but I think you’re going to be proud of what you did when it’s all said and done.’”