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Superintendent: State takeover of schools not an option

NATCHEZ — Waiting for a state takeover of two schools in the Natchez-Adams School District in September shouldn’t even be an option on the table, Superintendent Frederick Hill told community members Monday.

Gathered in the auditorium of Natchez High School, parents, residents and school officials listened as Hill explained the state law that requires Morgantown Middle School and Natchez High School to go under state control if the schools receive another “F” rating.

The schools have received “F” ratings for two consecutive years and a third “F” means all teachers and staff at the schools — including the principal — will be terminated and replaced by the state.

Changing the way things are done at a school that has failed for three years isn’t what bothers Hill. It’s the data Hill’s seen from other districts in the state that have been taken over that bring concern.

“This has been proven to not be successful for our students at other school districts,” Hill said. “For anybody to say the state should come in and takeover our schools is not truly thinking on behalf of our students, so the state takeover is not an option for us.”

Hill showed a graph containing eight school districts across the state each with five sets of numbers. Each number represented the district’s QDI, or quality distribution index, score from the last five school years. A QDI represents an overall measure of student performance on annual statewide assessments. The scores are represented on a scale of zero to 300, with higher numbers showing a better rating, and eventually translated into an A through F rating system.

Four of the districts kept an “F” rating throughout the years they were under state control. Two of the districts rose to a “D” rating and one reached a “C” rating.

“These districts were failing when they were taken over by the state and they were failing, or close to it, when the state left,” Hill said. “So is it best for the state to come in and takeover? Absolutely not.”

The state provided four options to Hill at an October meeting in Jackson where he, and other superintendents with failing schools in their districts, were first told of the potential takeover situation.

The two schools in the district are among nearly 50 schools in the state that could be taken over next year.

The district can redesign or restructure the schools to essentially start the three-year failing clock over, redistribute successful teachers to failing schools in hopes of improving scores, abolish the failing schools into other schools with equal grade levels or await state takeover.

Abolishing the failing schools isn’t an option, Hill said, in a district that only has one middle and high school.

Having already shifted teachers and administrators throughout the district this summer, Hill said the best option for the district is to restructure the two schools.

One of the restructuring options Hill said he thinks is best for the district would create career academies, which would serve as schools within schools.

Students would pick certain career clusters, which are groupings of similar occupations and industries, such as human services, information technology or manufacturing, among others. The students would eventually narrow their plan of study in those clusters and continue their studies with other students on the same path.

The decision to restructure any school ultimately rests on the NASD Board of Trustees, Hill said.

And while there is no set deadline by the state to have the schools restructured, Hill said the process would likely take between four and six months.

“Right now, I’m gathering all this information to present to the board again, but also to present to parents and community members,” Hill said. “That way, we can work out any kinks we find beforehand.

“It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Until those decisions are made, Hill said a variety of actions for improvement, such as a district turnaround team and focused weekly administrator meetings, are already in place to help improve the district and also avoid a state takeover.

“We need to ask ourselves, ‘Are we serious, are we ready and do we really want successful schools?’” Hill said. “If we are, then we can make some decisions that will put us on the road to being a successful school district.”