Solutions, not more scapegoats, needed at RLMS

Published 3:40 pm Sunday, April 8, 2007

Firecrackers, water balloons, police officers and education.

To borrow a few lines from the “Sesame Street” song, “Which one of these things is not like the others?”

What in the world is going on at Robert Lewis Middle School?

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The recent shenanigans surrounding the school have left many people, including many parents of the school’s children, scratching their heads trying to figure out the answer to that question.

Worrisome problems at the school have been bubbling for some time, but in the last few weeks, the problems have become much more caustic and more public.

Accusations began to fly publicly Tuesday during a meeting intended to allow public discussion on the impending restructuring of the school.

The changes are required after the school missed the mark four years in a row on the federal No Child Left Behind regulations.

Despite what some residents are saying, this isn’t some local conspiracy against the school or its teachers and administrators. This is a federal law and Robert Lewis Middle School isn’t the only school in the country having to deal with the restructuring mandates.

The restructuring options vary greatly, from a series of district-created, state-approved reforms to more drastic matters including replacing most of the staff.

At Tuesday’s meeting to discuss the options, unfortunately, the most vocal among the crowd sought to find blame, not solutions.

Everyone from the teachers to the superintendent to the newspaper was blamed. Each of those “scapegoats” is a prime example of killing the messenger because you don’t like the message.

Natchez-Adams Superintendent Dr. Anthony Morris may not be perfect, but it’s difficult to say the four years of problems are solely his fault.

The newspaper is almost always an easy target. It is easily the largest “messenger” around, so it comes with the territory. But the facts don’t support the crowd’s claims that the newspaper only prints negative articles about the school. That assertion is just wrong.

Some conspiracy theorists have alleged that the newspaper has gone out of its way to make a big deal out of drugs found recently at the middle school, while hiding reports of drugs found at other, non-public schools.

Reporters have checked into these claims and have found no police report of drug discoveries. If someone has concrete information about this, let us know. We cannot find anything more than rumors. Though drugs may be a problem at other schools, we have not seen police reports indicating this recently.

Further still, the blame game has stirred up controversy about the school’s interim principal, Larry Hooper.

Amazingly, Hooper’s defenders seem to have missed the fact that the school has failed to meet the minimums for four years. Hooper has only been employed at the school for a fraction of that time and no one has placed all the blame on him.

Superintendent Morris has said he cannot speak publicly about personnel matters, but Hooper has made public references to his suspension.

Hooper went on the defense after Thursday’s protest at the school by asking students, “Did I do anything wrong?”

By doing this, perhaps Hooper has given up some of his rights to have his personnel records kept from public scrutiny?

The truth surrounding whatever Hooper did or didn’t do might quickly hush critics and let the community get back to the real issues at hand — coming together to find a way to improve the middle school. That’s the most important thing right now, not finding a sticky scapegoat.

State testing begins in less than a month. Time is of the essence. Hopefully, the school can get things sorted out quickly.

Then we can leave the firecrackers and water balloons for the Fourth of July and leave educating our children the sole goal of our schools.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539.