Public expresses concerns with city, county, school leaders
NATCHEZ — A standing-room only crowd filled the boardroom at the Adams County Supervisors’ offices Monday to the point that even some elected officials were forced to wait in the hall.
The crowd was present for what was termed a joint-work session between the Natchez-Adams School District’s Board of Trustees and the two bodies that appointed its members, the Adams County Board of Supervisors and the Natchez Board of Aldermen.
And while most of the members of those boards were present, the focus was clearly on the school board, with members of the public grilling the appointed trustees and school Superintendent Frederick Hill about hiring and firing practices, testing standards and student discipline.
Much of the intensity was focused on Hill, who is not a Natchez native and who members of the crowd said they believed prefers to bring outsiders into the district instead of groom the talent within.
The meeting opened with the playing of a video from a previous supervisors’ meeting during which many of the community members concerns were raised.
When the video ended, school board President Tim Blalock said he has children in the school system and understands the community’s concern.
“We can point fingers all day long as to whose fault it is, but it has been a mess as long as I can remember,” Blalock said. “I graduated from Natchez High School, and it wasn’t the best school at the time. When we hired Dr. Hill, I said, ‘You are getting into a mess,’ and I don’t think he believed us. It is like excavating through a trash pile — you are fighting more and more stuff that is a problem.”
For many years, the school board, school administrations, parents and the community at large let the school system get into its current shape, Blalock said, and hiring Hill was part of the solution.
“We wanted somebody who was not from here,” he said. “The people who were from here let it get that bad.”
Some personnel changes in the district have not been popular, Blalock said, but they have been done in the best interest of students.
“We are not an employment agency,” he said. “We are here to educate the children first. We have had a failing school district since 2006, and we have had good administrators who I would invite to my children’s birthday party, but they did not educate the children, the numbers do not lie.”
During the meeting, Hill — addressing a misunderstanding that 60 teachers have left the district — said 38 teachers have left the district in the last year and 10 spots remain to be filled.
But Natchez High School teacher Creseda Crawford said she was nonetheless concerned about the migration of teachers from the district. Crawford said the school board should be more active and not simply rubber stamp what Hill recommends to them.
“When we lose teachers and replace them with substitutes, our children suffer,” she said.
“I understand we were in a mess, but just because we were in a mess doesn’t mean that you need to be ‘yes, yes’ people to everything that comes along. I don’t blame Dr. Hill for everything. He has done some good things, some things I don’t agree with, but I don’t think the board should decide that whatever he decides to do is it and to go along.
“The unsound decisions and extremes you have allowed are what have gotten us here today. It is your responsibility to identify the abuse of power. Do you really know who you have hired to replace those you have fired? You may have already caused unrectifiable damage in your stupor.”
Crawford likewise said she objected to the current benchmark-testing schedule that students have to meet in the district. Hill said the district is complying with federal standards when it uses the benchmark testing standards.
Crawford said using benchmark testing to determine if a teacher could continue employment is unfair because students get tired of testing and decide to not take the tests seriously.
School board member Benny Wright said he was willing to do anything legal to move the school district forward.
And that might mean removing teachers and principals in poorly performing schools, he said.
“We cannot employ everybody who has been here for 10 years, we have been a failing district for 10 years,” Wright said. “Every seminar I have been to, the burden of change on superintendents was changing principals.
“I am not committed to hiring our friends and neighbors. I am committed to educating our children. If your neighbor is not educating our children, your neighbor needs to be gone. We are a failing, flunking district, and it is my commitment to turn that around. We cannot continue to do the same things, with the same people, using the same tactics and expect change. If you are not doing the job, look for another one.”
Crawford said she believed the view of the school board was clouded.
“I am all for people not retaining jobs that are not doing their jobs, but there must be a balance,” she said. “You should find that balance because not only are you getting rid of bad teachers, but you are losing good teachers.”