‘It was crowded’: School leader recalls order’s aftermath

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; When the 1989-90 school year started, the Natchez-Adams School District went from 10 operational school buildings to six, excluding the vocational-technical school.

The reason was not budgetary or even voluntary &045; it was mandated by U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour Jr. when he ordered a new desegregation plan for the district July 24, 1989.

Between that day and the start of school, Sept. 5, there was plenty of moving to be done.

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District employees remember moving trucks running night and day, day and night for those 43 days between the two dates, hauling desks and equipment, but most importantly, student records.

H. Wayne Barnett, director of operations for the district, was assistant principal at North Natchez High School when the court order was handed down and can remember all the shifting that had to be done to consolidate the schools, most especially at the high school level.

&uot;Basically we had two of everything, but we didn’t have room for all of that at Natchez High,&uot; Barnett said.

When the two high schools merged, they merged a 4A school with about 800 students with a 5A school with over 1,000 students.

&uot;We have to move desks from one school to the other. I can remember many times, after school started, I had to go to Thompson looking for desks.

&uot;It was crowded.&uot;

The rated capacity for South Natchez, now Natchez High School, as stated in the court order was 1,242 students. Now that an additional 20 classrooms were built on, that number has grown.

But in the 1989-90 school year, only 10-12 grades attended Natchez High, leaving the ninth grade at North Natchez, or Natchez Middle School, until enough space could be made for all the students.

Barnett estimated that about 1500 students were on the Natchez High campus that first year though, without the ninth grade students.

&uot;It was crowded on sidewalks,&uot; Barnett said. &uot;It’s not as crowded now as it was then.&uot;

Now, there are about 1400 students at the high school, Barnett said, and that is with the extra 20 classrooms and it is crowded now.

In fact, the lunchroom was enlarged just a few years ago to deal with all of the students for lunch.

Once the merger took place, Barnett said Natchez High was in the top five largest schools in Mississippi. Barnett said Superintendent Melvin Buckley’s goal was to be number one after the merger.

In the court order, the judge addressed capacity problems, saying there would be problems but they could be handled. Also, that &uot;white flight,&uot; though &uot;regrettable,&uot; would &uot;have the practical result of alleviating much of the interim capacity problems.&uot;

Before the order, the district operated two schools that were kindergarten and first grade, Carpenter and Prince; two that were kindergarten through fourth grade, Northside, now Frazier, and West; three schools that were kindergarten through eighth grade, McLaurin, Morgantown and Martin; one school was fifth through eighth grade, Thompson; and two high schools, grades nine through 12, North and South Natchez High schools.

The court order closed Thompson, Martin, Carpenter and Prince.

Those four schools were later donated in to the city and county because they could not, by court order, be used as school buildings.

&uot;When you have a building that is not being used, it deteriorates,&uot; Barnett said, and since the district was not using them, they were given to the city and county to be put to use.

The school district gave the building away in the early 90s, Barnett said.

Now, Thompson houses the Miss-Lou Boys and Girls Club and AJFC Head Start. Prince is now a daycare.

Carpenter and Martin were given to the city.

&uot;Both of those buildings became large unused municipal properties,&uot; Alderwoman Sue Steadman said.

Carpenter is now an apartment complex on Union Street.

&uot;Martin initially used as an incubator type operation where we would lease out space for people,&uot; she said.

Now it is home to the Natchez Festival of Music, the Performing Arts Center.

&uot;If you talk to older people in Natchez, that (Martin) is the high school,&uot; Barnett said.

There are other old school buildings around town that have been reused for other purposes by the city or county, but not because they were shut down by the court order.

Carpenter No. 2 is now the Natchez Senior Citizen Multi-purpose Center. The old school on Commerce Street is now the Historic Natchez Foundation and even served as the school district’s central office at one time. And the Brumfield Apartments on St. Catherine Street also used to be a school.