Education chief wants state takeover of North Panola schools

Published 10:06 am Tuesday, March 18, 2008

SARDIS (AP) — State Education Superintendent Hank Bounds is recommending the state take control of the troubled North Panola School District.

If approved, the action would mark the second time within a year a Mississippi district has faced a state takeover. The state Department of Education took charge of the Jefferson Davis County School District last spring because of financial problems.

Bounds told the North Panola district’s board Monday that he recommended the action because most of the district’s children consistently underperform on state tests. He also said the district’s superintendent and school board have had problems working together and that some of the schools in the system are in disrepair.

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If the state takes charge of a school district, it generally means that the district’s finances or academic performance need serious improvement. The state appoints someone, such as a former school administrator, to essentially take over the district superintendent’s job and make necessary changes until the district has improved sufficiently to govern itself again.

The state previously took over North Panola in 1996 because it had financial trouble. Bounds told the state Board of Education on Monday that 300 people attended a recent community meeting in which the district’s problems were discussed and that 90 percent of them called for state assistance.

“We’ve done all that we know to do,” Bounds said.

Jean Massey, senior assistant superintendent of the Office of Accreditation for the state Department of Education, said schools must meet 37 standards, ranging from facility conditions to finances to leadership to the board’s rapport with the superintendent.

Massey said an audit found that North Panola met only four of the standards.

“I think the major reason of recommendation … (is) that they are concerned that the kids be the bottom line,” Massey said. “What are we doing to improve education for kids?”

Board President Claude Hartley has said one way to do that is to improve leadership. The 1,900-student district in Sardis has been low performing for a number of years. It now has two Level 2, underperforming schools and two Level 1, low-performing schools.

The highest a school can achieve is Level 5 for superior performance.

The state board downgraded North Panola’s accreditation status in September from advised status to probation.

The Commission on School Accreditation will take up North Panola’s possible takeover at its meeting on April 3, Massey said. If the commission agrees with Bound’s recommendation, it will make a recommendation to the state education board.

The state board, in turn, would make a recommendation to the governor, who has the final say.

Lucinda Carter, North Panola’s superintendent since July, said Monday afternoon that her district has been trying to improve.