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Natchez-Adams Schools superintendent reaches out to community

NATCHEZ — Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Frederick Hill made a deal Thursday night with a group of community members who have been rallying against him.

If scores from spring testing do not show improvement, he’ll sign their petition calling for his resignation.

Speaking as a parent and citizen before the NASD Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, Hill said he applauded the efforts of those who were helping bring attention to the issues of the school district.

Community members — elected officials, teachers and students — began protesting the district and its administrators last month following personnel changes throughout the district.

Those community members started a petition calling for the removal of Hill, the members of the school board and other district administrators.

“When (I) interviewed with the board in 2012, (I) made a bold statement to them,” Hill said, reading from a letter. “(I) shared that if after the second year of (my) tenure, the district had not improved (I) think it would be fair for someone else to take lead of the district.

“If that is indeed the case after scores return, (I) will be willing to sign your petition for (my) removal.”

Hill reviewed the reasons community members have called for his resignation, which include improving academic leadership and ensuring qualified district and school level leadership are in place.

But Hill went on to point out a variety of positive things he said have occurred in the district in the last two years including an increase in the graduation rate from 53 percent two years ago to more than 70 percent this year and a balanced budget for the first time in more than five years.

Hill said all of those positive things have come from the changes implemented throughout the district in the past two years, including some changes that have been met with resistance from the community.

“We have to be honest with ourselves and realize that change and growth are hard,” Hill said. “We will experience growing pains, but (I) think it is worth it when we put the students first.”

Hill pleaded with the audience members, some of who were those who have been protesting the district, to come together to develop and implement a plan to improve the district.

“Is it unreal to ask to put the emotions and politics aside and let the numbers speak (for themselves)?” Hill said. “If not, let’s mobilize.”

Later in the meeting, board member Benny Wright asked the board’s permission to comment to those community members upset at the recent personnel changes with the district.

“We’ve had a failing school district since 2006, and we’re at a point that we’re beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Wright said. “We cannot continue with the same personnel and the same strategy and expect a different result.

“If we’re going to move into a positive position, we’re going to have to have some new personnel.”

In other news from the meeting:

Willis Smith was announced as the new principal of Natchez High School.

Smith most recently worked for six years in the Jackson Public School District before applying for the position in Natchez.

Smith will take over the position previously occupied by long-time educator Fred Butcher, who turned in his letter of resignation last month.

Smith has worked for four years as an assistant principal for both middle and high school levels and said he looked forward to being a part of the district.

“I always like a challenge, and this seemed like the perfect place for me,” Smith said. “I’m excited to be a part of these changes and leadership that is looking to do some great things.”

Hill gave an update on the plan to restructure Morgantown Middle School and Natchez High School into smaller learning communities.

The plan to restructure the schools includes establishing three smaller learning communities for students: middle school academies, an early college model and a career academy.

The changes are structured around the idea of smaller classes and more personal teacher instruction. Changes will be enacted for the 2014-15 school year.

The plans also include creating a more independent freshman academy, which was implemented in 2011-12 on the high school’s campus.

Hill said the freshman academy needed to operate outside of the high school’s campus to make it independent and announced the new academy would be housed at the Central Alternative School.

The alternative school students will be moved to an annex building at Robert Lewis Magnet School.

Hill assured board members the students at each of those programs would have no interaction with each other throughout the day, even though they’re at the same school.

“They will be totally separate, with their own facility and no interaction of the main students at Robert Lewis,” Hill said. “The plan is for the students not to be exposed to each other there.”