NAACP may back plan to reopen school

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 27, 1999

Overcrowding in the Natchez-Adams County School District has not gone unnoticed by local NAACP leaders.

&uot;We know that the learning environment would be so much better if the schools were less crowded,&uot; said Eva Dunkley, education co-chairman for the Natchez chapter of the NAACP.

So NAACP officials have taken an interest in a recent school district proposal to turn Braden School on Homochitto Street into a K-6 elementary school. The building is currently used for administration.

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Four other schools in the district, Morgantown Elementary, McLaurin Elementary, Frazier Primary and West Primary, would also be turned into K-6 schools under the plan.

&uot;What we are going to do is just set aside one meeting to discuss this,&uot; Dunkley said.

The group plans to meet Tuesday, she said.

This plan could reduce overcrowding for at least two district schools — McLaurin and Morgantown. Each of these upper elementary schools have around 1,000 students.

&uot;All I can say is the schools are terribly overcrowded,&uot; said school board member Kenneth Taylor.

And the Braden plan is a way to remedy some of the problem, Taylor said. &uot;The most immediate overcrowding that needs to be relieved is K-6,&uot; he said.

But the answer is not as simple as opening another school.

In the late 1980s, a group of Natchezians petitioned federal court, arguing that Natchez schools were not properly integrated.

The court ordered the Natchez-Adams School District to close certain schools and only operate the ones which are now open.

The district, which is 80 percent black, cannot make any changes without the court’s permission, Davis said.

District officials are hoping the plaintiffs in the suit, Phillip and Carolyn West, George and Deborah Harden and Lonnie and Carolyn Nichols, will agree to the changes.

If they agree, the changes could happen easily. If they do not, the school board will have to undergo expensive and lengthy litigation, board members said.

&uot;We’re dead in the water until (the plaintiffs) do something or until we bite the bullet&uot;&160;and take legal action,&160;said board member Dr. David Steckler. &uot;I’d much rather spend that money on academics.&uot;

The school board discussed the idea with the plaintiffs more than a year ago, members said. They have not gotten a response but plan to keep trying.

Harden declined comment saying he would rather deal with the issue in court and not in The Natchez Democrat. West said recently that he is open to any idea to improve education but that he needed more details about the plan.

Lonnie Nichols could not be reached for comment.

Davis said reducing overcrowding is crucial to student success and improving state test scores.

&uot;You’ve got to have smaller schools,&uot; Davis said. &uot;That’s something I’m going to keep pushing.&uot;

Steckler said he is hoping local black leaders will support the change.

&uot;The question that needs to be asked is ‘Are they satisfied with the overcrowding?’&uot; Steckler said.

Steckler said the community must decide if the status quo is fine for them. &uot;The board has done what they can do,&uot; he said.

Local NAACP officials may talk to the plaintiffs after collecting data on the plan.

&uot;We have not gotten (as) far as approaching the plaintiffs,&uot;&160;Dunkley said.

The group wants to finish its research first, she added. Dunkley said her top priority is the students.

&uot;Right now, I am not concerned with the integration,&uot; Dunkley said. &uot;I am concerned with the welfare of the children.&uot;

If the plan is approved, the district is not certain where it will move its administrative offices, but it has set aside funding for that purpose, Davis said.