Wright shares vision

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 30, 2008

NATCHEZ — With high hopes and a desire for reconciliation, Dr. Benny Wright is ready to address the problems of the Natchez-Adams School District.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Natchez Board of Aldermen, Wright, 70, was appointed to fill the lone vacancy on the Natchez-Adams School Board.

For nearly 40 years Wright ran his own dental practice in Natchez and said he’s directly experienced the benefits an education a public school can provide.

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Educated in Florida’s public school system, Wright said he recognized early on that education was his ticket out of poverty and the key to a better life.

“It afforded me the opportunity to acquire a comfortable lifestyle,” he said.

While he has no formal background in education, Wright said he’s spent years lecturing in local schools, mostly on oral health, and speaking to students on the benefits of education.

And now Wright plans to use his spot on the board to reach more students and enact change that will impact the district’s youngest students.

But it wasn’t long ago Wright was trying to implement a different, more drastic, change in the district.

In March, the Committee for Better Public Schools, of which Wright is a current member, called for the removal of school superintendent Anthony Morris.

At the time Wright and other committee members said they believed Morris was not fulfilling his obligation as superintendent and wanted him out.

But now Wright has changed his mind — and he’s urging his fellow committee members to follow suit.

To the school board, administration and superintendent Wright said he’d like to extend an “olive branch of reconciliation.”

Wright said he believes he’ll be able to accomplish more with the board, and for the students, if the entire board can focus on common goals instead of getting rid of Morris.

“I believe I can bring a renewed energy and enthusiasm to the board, but it has to be cooperative,” he said.

And to bolster the spirit of cooperation, Wright has formally recanted his call for Morris to step aside.

Without a call for Morris to step down, Wright said he feels the board will be able to focus on more important goals — like increasing student literacy.

Wright said one of his main objectives while on the board will be to increase reading programs for students in grades one through three as a means to ensure their continued success in later years of education.

“Reading is the foundation for everything,” he said. “It has to be our primary focus.”

To get those students reading, Wright wants to loosen the district’s purse strings and hire a new crop of teachers.

Wright said he’d like to reallocate some of the districts $40 million-plus budget and use it to hire a batch of top-notch teachers.

And those top-notch teachers would come with top-notch salaries.

Wright said to entice the best possible teachers to the district he would locate the district in Mississippi that pays its first-grade teachers the most, increase that figure by 10 percent and give that to first-grade teachers in Adams County.

Wright’s plan also calls for those same first-grade teachers to keep the same batch of students through the third grade to build rapport with the students and guarantee accountability.

If after three years students are not reading at or above the national average, the teachers would have their contract terminated, Wright said.

“It leaves no room for excuses,” he said.