Officials: Schools still overcrowded

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 13, 1999

Whether or not too many students fill up the schools in the Natchez-Adams School District comes down to a battle of numbers.

In the late 1980s, more than 6,400 students attended the public school district.

But as of November 1999, only 5,157 students were enrolled, and this number has been dropping steadily since 1989.

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That year – the same year a federal court order closed several Natchez schools for integration reasons – 400 white students and 100 black students left the system.

&uot;Since that (time) we have been losing on average 100 students per year,&uot; said Assistant Superintendent Larry Little.

Despite the drop in enrollment, district officials believe the four elementary schools are still too large, and they want court approval to open a fifth school – Braden, now being used for administrative offices.

Morgantown Elementary School has nearly 1,100 students in a school building that data from the 1970s says should hold less than 800.

&uot;I don’t think that a school the size of Morgantown is a good educational environment simply because of the numbers,&uot; Little said.

And McLaurin Elementary School has more than 950 students in a building that should have less than 600, he said.

With the addition of trailers, the district has created more classrooms for all students. Morgantown has five trailers, and McLaurin has 11.

But officials think the problem is more complicated than just having a desk for each student.

&uot;The word overcrowding implies build more on to it and you solve the problem,&uot; said Superintendent Dr. Carl Davis. &uot;The problem is we’re too large.

Davis said smaller schools could improve test scores, discipline and staff-student relationship. &uot;We can build more classes,&uot; he said. &uot;But once you get so large, you lose the effectiveness you have to have at that age group.&uot;

The ideal size for an elementary school is 500 to 600 students, Davis said.

&uot;You get beyond that (and) you start warehousing,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;You lose that personal touch and that’s at a crucial age.&uot;

PREPS Inc., a group of consultants that operate out of Mississippi State University, has studied the district’s idea to alleviate its overcrowding.

The plan includes opening Braden School on Homochitto Street as a K-6 school and turning the district’s two primary schools and two upper elementary schools into K-6 schools.

The student population would be 76 to 83 percent black and 16 to 23 percent white, depending on the school.

District officials said they like the plan because students would attend only one elementary school instead of switching after the first-grade.

&uot;You eliminate that totally,&uot; said PREPS consultant Dr. Reuben Dilworth. &uot;That’s one big advantage.&uot;

Dilworth said many educators think smaller schools are better, but items like facility structure are also important.

&uot;I think the school organization is just as important as school-size,&uot; he said.

The federal lawsuit that led to the court order was filed by State Rep. Phillip and Carolyn West, George &uot;Shake&uot; and Deborah Harden and Connie and Carolyn Nichols.

The district cannot make any changes without their consent and the consent of the court.

Phillip West said he is does not know if too many students are in the schools.

&uot;I don’t know if there is overcrowding, first of all,&uot; he said.

West said he plans to visit the schools and look into the matter.

West said people leadership should try to improve education but he was not certain what his specific duty was as a state politician.

He also questioned the way the district has handled the proposal.

&uot;I don’t think it’s been done in the most professional way,&uot;&160;West said. &uot;That doesn’t bother me to the extent that it would deter me from what I (feel) I need to do.&uot;

If Braden is reopened, figures from June 1998 show that it would have 386 students. Northside Primary would have 586 and West Primary would have 484. McLaurin would drop to 835 and Morgantown to 761.

That would also reduce the number of trailers at each school.

&uot;You want children in permanent structures,&uot; said Gerald Horn, district director of operations. &uot;As an educator, I just feel like it’s the right thing to do.&uot;