Community reacts to school case

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; For the Chamber of Commerce’s Fred Middleton, it &uot;felt just as good as getting a 500-person plant announced.&uot;

Middleton was referring to the possible lifting of a desegregation order that Natchez-Adams public schools have been operating under since 1989.

Under the order, the district must seek approval from the U.S. Department of Justice if it wishes to build new school facilities.

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Building such facilities, some school officials and community leaders have said, would be a key to moving the system forward.

Getting the order lifted &045; which may come after a Dec. 5 hearing on the issue in federal court in Jackson &045; &uot;would give the school board some ability to implement plans,&uot; said Michael Winn of Natchez.

&uot;Right now, if you wanted to build a new facility, the district wouldn’t be able to do that.&uot;

If the order is not lifted, it at least needs to be updated to better meet the needs of a changing school district, Winn said. &uot;Administrators need the freedom to make decisions and implement changes,&uot; he said.

From his perspective, former school board member Don Marion said the lifting of the court order, if it happens, would be &uot;a very positive move that has been too long in coming.&uot;

Windell Green chaired a biracial committee that made recommendations for desegregation before the 1989 court order was handed down.

Green believes some changes could be made to improve test scores and raise the district’s accountability score even without the lifting of the order.

That said, however, Green said that &uot;the present administration is going to do a good job looking at all the pros and cons (of lifting the order). And if that’s what they determine needs to be done, then I’m all for it.&uot;

But that’s not the only consideration.

Michael Ferdinand, executive director of the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority, said having a good school district &uot;makes our job easier (as economic developers in that it improves the outside perception of your community.&uot;

Among other factors, a industrial prospect researching a possible location looks at the area’s school systems, especially since company may move some of its key management people to the community, Middleton said.

&uot;If I knew I’d have to pay $3,000 to $4,000 a year to send my children to private schools due to Š class size and the number of students on campus, school would pay a factor&uot; in the location decision, Middleton said.

Although the Natchez-Adams School District has quality educators and a &uot;super superintendent,&uot; neither administration nor the board now have the latitude to make decisions resulting in smaller class size or new facilities, he said.

Building new school facilities could help raise test scores and, by creating smaller campuses, could help keep students safe, he added.

&uot;I respect what happened in 1989 to cause that court order. When you stand up for something you believe in and make a difference like those families did, Š you’ve got to respect them for having that opinion,&uot; Middleton said. &uot;But what’s good for 1989 may not be good in 2003.&uot;