Community interviews are revealing

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Adams County Supervisor Virginia Salmon said it right on Thursday: &8220;All taxpayers have a vested interest in public schools.&8221;

Whether your children attend private or public schools &045; and even if you don’t have children in school &045; your tax dollars support the Natchez-Adams School District.

Over three days of interviews both public and private, the Natchez-Adams School Board this week learned more about the six finalists chosen to compete for its vacant superintendent position.

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But in the six hours of public interviews &045; conducted with a panel of community residents &045; everyone present learned as much about our opinions of the school district as we did about the candidates.

The perception about Natchez-Adams Schools goes something like this: They are overcrowded, filled with discipline problems and lacking in academic achievement.

But that’s the perception; it is not the reality.

The fact is, all of us in this community rely on public schools.

They are a partner in economic development; any company looking at Natchez wants to know about what the school system is like. They are educating the future of our community.

They are, simply, representative of this community.

And during six interviews with superintendent candidates, the community members attending represented a cross-section of Natchez and Adams County &045; parents, teachers, principals, taxpayers, elected officials.

They asked questions about test scores and discipline, parent involvement and teacher morale.

You have to give credit to the candidates, who looked out at a sea of unfamiliar faces and fielded some tough questions.

There were few easy answers, particularly to questions about upcoming budget woes because of International Paper’s closure or the road toward better test scores.

Natchez-Adams Schools do indeed face some challenges ahead. The board and the new superintendent, whoever is chosen, will have to look for creative ways to overcome the loss of tax revenue from IP. They will have to look at ways to fulfill an ambitious new set of goals &045; the first one being to achieve Level 5 status in the State of Mississippi &045; two levels above where the district is now.

But here’s the good news: The school district is helmed by a board of dedicated residents, many of whom are new to their positions but eager to make a difference.

It is populated by caring teachers, many of whom showed up to interview after interview to catch a glimpse of the people who want to lead the district.

It is filled with students who want to learn and want to be challenged.

And, judging by the number of residents without connections to the schools who showed up at the interviews, it is supported by a community that knows how vital public education is to Natchez.

As Interim Superintendent Mary Kate Garvin &045; herself a candidate for the top job &045; said at a chamber lunch on Friday: &8220;In order to have a strong community, you have to have a strong public school system. And in order to have a strong public school system, you have to have that community backing.&8221;

Kerry Whipple

is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at kerry.whipple@