Schools poll poorly at MECPublished 12:00am Thursday, February 28, 2013
NATCHEZ — The majority of a group of Natchez businesspeople polled Thursday voiced little confidence in the educational opportunities offered in the Natchez-Adams County School District.
Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson made a presentation of the non-profit economic development lobbying group’s long-term plans to a meeting of the Natchez Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. He polled those in attendance about education and health care as those issues relate to economic development. The polling was done in real time by having attendees answer questions on handheld clickers, and the results were projected before the group as they were calculated.
The MEC takes the information it gathers from cities across Mississippi to business and elected officials to show how communities feel about issues of concern and to provide direction on how the council feels the state should focus economic efforts. Education and health care feature prominently in the MEC’s long-term plan, known as “Blueprint Mississippi.”
When Wilson asked those in attendances how they would compare regional public schools to other school districts in the state, the answer was overwhelmingly negative, with the majority of respondents saying the local public schools were “much worse” or “somewhat worse” than in the rest of the state.
“The truth is, if your public schools aren’t that strong, your (private) academies aren’t as strong as they could be, either,” Wilson said. “Private schools are good, parochial schools are good, but you need a strong public school base.”
But those polled said that they also believe early childhood education is an important component driving future economic development, and 96 percent said they believe educational improvement is critical to improving Mississippi’s position as an economic development competitor.
Wilson said educational reforms are like car options. Years ago, power locks and windows and AM-FM radios were considered optional.
“What seemed to be options years ago are now standards — why? Because they made the ride better,” Wilson said.
“Sometimes it is a little awkward to be looking at (educational reforms), but we have got to be paying attention and incorporating them into our system. Today, to be successful we need quality leadership, demanding and involved parents and sustainable funding.”
Wilson said some creative thinking might provide a solution. For example, he said in Brookhaven a program was able to raise $100,000 in $5 donations to fund scholarships for students who chose to participate in programs that required a more rigorous course of study.
Those present were also asked about health care services.
“If you work on healthy lifestyles, we become more competitive to locate manufacturing facilities here,” Wilson said. “They know that if they can keep their employees on edge, they can produce a better product.”
Those polled said they believed the best area for medical care to grow in the Miss-Lou would be in specialized care.
“You have well-established hospitals here, but there is still some room for growth,” Wilson said.