Amite County School District working to regain accreditation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

LIBERTY &045;&045; A year after state auditors documented serious deficiencies in its operations, the Amite County School District is well on its way to regaining its accreditation, according to district and state officials.

&uot;Our goal is to be relieved of all of our deficiencies by the end of this semester,&uot; district spokesperson Debbie Hopf said Wednesday.

Hopf, who serves as curriculum attesting coordinator for the district, said of the 18 deficiencies noted in the original audit, only seven remain to be resolved.

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&uot;We feel like we’ve made a lot of progress, and the state is working with us very closely,&uot; Hopf said.

The district is one of four currently placed on advised status by the Mississippi Department of Education.

Advised status is assigned to districts that do not fully comply with state standards. Districts placed on advised status must take corrective action or risk having their accreditation withdrawn.

The improper documentation of student records and Carnegie units was a major audit finding the district has worked to address.

&uot;We’ve provided a lot of staff development for our teachers. We’ve also established a policy with regard to the way student records are checked out.

Now, only the counselor and principal have access to the (records) vault,&uot;

Hopf said.

Administrators hope to finish updating all student records &045;&045; including verification of birth certificates and immunization records &045;&045;by next week.

&uot;We’ll do an in-house check and then invite the state auditors down to review the records,&uot; Hopf said.

The district’s special education program has also been revamped.

&uot;We’ve hired consultants to help us with developing our Student Individualized Special Education plans. Our special education department has submitted a very detailed, long-term plan to the state,&uot; Hopf said.

The district is also working with state officials to revise its compulsory attendance reporting policy; place certified teachers in its Alternative Education/GED program; provide Internet access to all classrooms and develop more specific school safety plans.

&uot;We’ve made a lot of safety changes, such as installing new exit doors with panic bars on our buildings. Our buildings are old, and the doors had to be custom-made, so that took some time,&uot; Hopf said.

Other issues were more quickly resolved.

Vent fans were installed and hazardous chemicals were properly inventoried and stored in the science lab at Amite County High School.

And new stove hoods have improved sanitation in school cafeterias.

But administrators have been forced to make the improvements while struggling to manage a cash shortfall.

Since November, the district has been forced to borrow $950,000 &045;&045; money that must be repaid by June 1.

&uot;We’ve made two timber cuts on school lands to repay that loan with,&uot; Business Manager Sherie Jones said.

Meanwhile, the MDE appointed a financial advisor to oversee the district’s spending.

&uot;He (the advisor) has already cut $200,000 in expenditures from our budget.

It’s not a bad thing having him with us.

He’s been a great help,&uot; Jones said.

And that spirit of cooperation has not gone unnoticed by state officials.

&uot;We’re very pleased with the progress the Amite County district has made,&uot; said Dr. Beth Sewell, director of the MDE’s Office of Accreditation.

Sewell said the district’s goal of full compliance by the end of this school year is attainable. &uot;We believe the Amite County School District is on the right track.

We hope these remaining issues can be resolved and they can regain their accreditation this fall,&uot; Sewell said.