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Magnet school plans move forward

NATCHEZ — Superintendent Frederick Hill set a timeline Thursday to seek approval by January for the implementation of a magnet program at the former Robert Lewis Middle School.

The timeline is part of a larger magnet program study Hill and other staff members will conduct in hopes of reopening the school as a magnet program with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics by the 2013-2014 school year.

The study, which was approved by the Natchez-Adams School District Board of Trustees during its meeting Thursday afternoon, was received with praise from several board members.

“I know this is something we’ve talked about for a period of time, and it’s good to see something being put in action,” board member Thelma Newsome said. “I commend the superintendent for providing us with this information.”

The board voted earlier this year to reorganize the entire school district, leaving RLMS closed for the 2012-2013 school year for renovations.

Apart from providing the board with necessary background information on magnet and STEM programs, Hill said it was important to set the timeline in order to set realistic goals for the project.

“I’m still very confident we can get this project accomplished and this will only help us reach our goal,” Hill said after the meeting. “Usually the building blocks take about two or three months to prepare and then from January to June is where the real work will begin.

“But we need to bring the board a solid plan in January for it to continue.”

The next goal on the timeline is the creation of a steering committee, which Hill said will consist of school staff, administrative consultants and community members.

In other news from the meeting:

The board approved a revised school calendar, making changes to make up for the three instructional days district schools missed because of Tropical Storm Isaac.

The option will convert Jan. 3 from a professional development day to a regular school day — moving the development day to Jan. 2 — using April 1, which was previously reserved as a weather day, as a regular school day and adding one day to the end of the school year.

In an attempt to curb the increasing dropout rate in the district, the board approved an extended school day program that will assist students who have not completed the education requirements to obtain a high school diploma.

The program will use software called NovaNet, which offers English, math, science, history and biology classes and will be administered in the computer lab of Natchez High School.

Hill said the software gives students who did not function well in the traditional classroom and school settings from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. an opportunity to recover credit in a non-traditional setting online.

“The reality is those students are not going to do 8 to 3,” Hill said. “If they have the opportunity to come to these hours it’s going to help bring in some of those students that had previously dropped out of school.”

The program will operate Monday through Thursday from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and under the supervision of a certified teacher, facilitator and a security officer.

“Great students, great schools, great community” was approved by the board as the district’s new vision statement.

A new mission statement was also approved by the board and states: “The mission of the Natchez-Adams School District is to educate all students to succeed in the 21st Century.”

Both the vision statement and the mission statement were created before Hill’s arrival in July, but board members wanted to wait for the new superintendent before approving them.