Legal, leadership changes dominate year in education

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The winds of change have swept through schools in the Miss-Lou, bringing administrative and accountability changes to both public school systems.

Perhaps the largest change this year came with the ending of the Natchez-Adams School district’s 14-year-old desegregation case and ending of its court order.

On Dec. 5, U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour Jr. ruled the district was operating under unitary status, in other words, a desegregated school system.

Email newsletter signup

In 1989, Barbour ordered the closing of five schools in the district, created two attendance zones, one school for seventh and eighth grade and created one high school.

The district had been operating under the order for 14 years, having to file annual statistical reports to show compliance. Also, the district could not make decisions to change the order, including opening new schools or making adjustments for overcrowding, without the consent of the court.

This &uot;demonstrates we made a genuine effort to do as we were ordered by the court,&uot; Superintendent Anthony Morris said after the ruling.

Morris said the district had no &uot;immediate&uot; plans for change.


Morris himself was a change in the school district this year as both school districts changed leadership in both school principal positions and their top position &045; superintendent.

Morris returned to the Natchez-Adams School district July 1, but this time he came as the new superintendent in the district he previously served as a principal.

Also joining Morris in returning to the district was Assistant Superintendent Larry Little.

In Concordia Parish, longtime parish employee &045; teacher, coach, counselor and superintendent &045; Lester &uot;Pete&uot; Peterman retired after four years as superintendent, having battled cancer for months.

In October, Peterman died, and the schools were closed early for district personnel to pay their respects.

Fellow Concordia employees described Peterman as enthusiastic, funny and compassionate.

As his retirement was effective in July, the school board began their search for a new superintendent. After narrowing the field to three, the board deadlocked, twice, on the three candidates &045; Fred Butcher, Julius Huhn and Kerry Laster.

Then the board voted to readvertise for the positions, gathering seven applicants. The field was narrowed again, to two, Huhn and Laster, and then the board deadlocked a third time with three members abstaining.

Finally, on Nov. 11, the board elected Kerry Laster the district’s new superintendent, and she began the job Dec. 1.

&uot;I’ve been extremely pleased with the way things have gone,&uot; Laster said Tuesday of her first month. &uot;I have been well received.

&uot;Mr. Butcher, Mr. Huhn and I have worked well together and all three of us really have our strengths. We really have worked as a team and complemented each other.&uot;


Another swift change schools in the Miss-Lou as well as the country, faced this year was the implementation of standards from the federal &uot;No Child Left Behind&uot; Act.

Schools now must make adequate yearly progress (AYP) and growth and are held to accountability standards for all children. There is some gradualness to the process as schools have until 2014 to get every child to the desired level of proficiency but growth now must occur each year.

Only Robert Lewis Middle School failed to make AYP this year in the Natchez-Adams School district but only because of attendance &045; 95 percent of students must be tested in each of the subgroups for schools to make AYP.

In Concordia Parish, all schools met AYP but four schools were moved into school improvement. To help move those schools out, the district implemented extended hours for all Ferriday schools, Tuesday,

Wednesday and Thursday for tutoring. Beginning Jan. 13, all Ferriday students will stay at school until 4:30 p.m., except kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students.

Ferriday Lower and Upper Elementary and Ferriday Junior High were all put in school improvement.

Ferriday High School, who was removed from the state watch list earlier in the year, also will participate because growth is needed to make sure the high school is not in school improvement next year.

At Vidalia High School, the other school in school improvement, extra tutoring will be done during school hours.


Both new superintendents have one clear goal &045; to improve student achievement.

Laster said there is a lot of work to do and while she knows she cannot make a huge impact on this year’s testing, with only three months before the tests, she can make marginal differences and plan for next year.

But she will use the second semester &uot;to really plan and to prepare and to do the things I want to do for next year,&uot; Laster said.

Two things she already is working on is a principal study group to look toward meeting the national principal standards. And, the district just applied for a state reading grant. &uot;We have a lot of work to do&uot; this year, Laster said.