District still pushing plan for schools

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 5, 2000

After an emotional public forum, school district officials still want to reduce the size of Natchez’s schools. Natchez-Adams&160;School District officials held the forum Thursday to get public input on a plan to reduce the student population at its elementary schools.

At the forum, state Rep. Phillip West vehemently attacked the school board for its approach and for focusing more on school size than classroom size.

&uot;I admit a smaller school may be helpful, but a smaller classroom is more important,&uot; he said Thursday.

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West, who could not be reached for comment Friday, suggested the school board consider building a new high school.

The district’s plan proposes reopening Braden School as a kindergarten through sixth-grade elementary school and converting the district’s two primary schools and two elementary schools into K-6 schools.

The district began looking at possibilities for Braden because it was to receive funding for renovations from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), said school board President Terry Estes.

The school district allocated $1.6 million to renovate Braden. That money must be used elsewhere if the plan is not implemented, or the district will lose the money, said Superintendent Dr. Carl Davis.

The Rev. Windell Greene spoke in favor of the plan at the forum.

&uot;If you’re traveling on a journey you have to first take one step,&uot; he said. &uot;Right now we have a plan before us that would at least accomplish one step on the journey.

On Friday, Estes said he disagreed with many of West’s comments.

&uot;The whole point is to help these children and these teachers get continuity in their schools,&uot; Estes said. &uot;If you lose them those first six years (and) they can’t read you’ve lost them, and we think that is one of our problems.&uot;

Enlarging existing schools is not a good idea, he added.

Superintendent Dr. Carl Davis agrees that smaller schools are better. &uot;We have some of the largest elementary schools in the state,&uot; Davis said. &uot;(At) smaller schools you have better instruction.&uot;

Classroom size and school size run hand in hand since students lose a family-oriented atmosphere at a larger school, Davis said.

West and five other Natchez residents filed a lawsuit in 1989 claiming the schools were not properly integrated.

A court order resulting from the lawsuit forced the school system to operate only the schools now open.

Changes require court approval, but to save time and avoid expensive litigation, the district was hoping the plaintiffs would approve of the plan.

&uot;If the plaintiffs were favorable, the judge would possibly be favorable in granting us that one step,&uot; Estes said.

Davis said he spoke with West after the forum and thinks West is willing to work out some plan with the district.

Officials agreed with West that building a high school is a good idea but would cost at least $20 million and require approval of a bond issue. It would cost $5 to $6 million to build a new elementary school.