School meeting leaves most satisfied

Published 11:42 pm Monday, September 24, 2007

NATCHEZ — Many of the approximately 100 community members who attended a public meeting on the Natchez schools Monday night left with smiles on their faces.

Though no one is happy with the test scores performance of the local schools, some in attendance said they felt things were moving in the right direction.

Since a similar community meeting last spring, which ended in raised voices and more questions, some parents and citizens have asked for forums to address their concerns.

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“I’m satisfied with getting to hear about (school performance),” parent Calvin Woodfork said. “There was no feedback from the group here tonight, but it worked.”

The format of Monday night’s meeting required that questions be submitted in advance. The superintendent and other administrators responded to the questions, but didn’t offer the audience any chance to speak.

Superintendent Anthony Morris said he thought the format was the best for covering a large amount of information quickly. He said meetings in the future would not necessarily be structured in the same way.

Father and local businessman Michael Winn was active last spring in organizing several parent meetings to voice concerns and has approached the school board this year seeking a forum.

“This is a big step forward,” Winn said after Monday night’s meeting. “This is the kind of thing the school system needs to do. I’m glad there will be others in a different format in the future.”

Questions submitted from the community were included in a slideshow, and Morris or someone from his staff responded to each one. More than 30 questions were submitted.

Questions ranged from why more trophies weren’t displayed in the schools to whether or not administrators were qualified for their jobs.

One question that came up several time related to the value of outside consultants.

Morris said that the district contracts with various personnel for staff development and training, but currently only employs one consultant for a long time frame.

“Are we getting value from consultants? I think so,” he said.

“We think it’s good to diversify (where consultants are from) because then you can better judge what’s going on and whether it’s effective.”

Fallin Career and Technology Center Director Linda Grafton addressed several questions about alternative education for students who aren’t succeeding academically.

Grafton said the vocational program accepts students in 10th grade or above who apply and do not have poor discipline or attendance records.

But she said the programs could not replace academic learning.

“Any program that I have relies on academic knowledge,” she said. “You have to be able to do math and read. I didn’t make that up, that’s just the way the world is.”

Morris also responded to a question that asked if parents had an outlet to help improve the district.

Morris encouraged all parents to become active in their school’s Parent-Teacher Association. He said he meets monthly with the PTA Council, a group composed of school-level principals.

Another submitted question asked why the district employed people from outside of Natchez.

“We do hire the very best people we can find regardless of whether they are from Natchez or from somewhere else,” Morris said. “Things are so challenging now days that we have to find the best employees we can possibly find.”

Morris said the district currently has 19 teachers who are not considered highly qualified — a No Child Left Behind federal regulation.

The teachers were hired because the district could not find highly qualified teachers.

“A lot of those (19) are from Natchez,” Morris said. “They show potential. It’s not like we look at a list and just automatically pull people who are not from Natchez.”

Morris closed by stressing that the public schools are a mirror of the community, that accountability standards have gotten increasingly harder and that it takes the entire community to raise a child.

A date for the next community meeting has not been set, but Morris has said he’d like to do them quarterly.