We need school leaders who believe district can improve

Published 12:09 am Sunday, July 7, 2013

Here’s a shocker. I don’t know a darned thing about how to effectively run a school district, let alone fix one that appears to be broken.

But I do know that when a system — of any kind — is fundamentally broken, drastic changes may be required to get things moving correctly again.

By all indications, the Natchez-Adams School District is broken — state test scores show its schools are largely considered to be failing among peers.

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Most area parents who can scrape together enough cash to send their children to private or parochial schools rather than deal with the public schools.

A large part of the public has simply stopped believing in the schools.

That, perhaps more than the low-test scores, is the biggest issue facing the public schools. Overcoming that is a huge challenge.

Enter new Natchez-Adams School Superintendent Fredrick Hill. He’s the man who we all hope and pray can help lead the district back to dominance again.

I’ve only met Hill in passing, but he seems to be a fairly unflappable leader. Facing challenges at nearly every turn, most people in his position would probably seek to hunker down and just try to slowly ride out the waves and hope for smoother sailing tomorrow.

Hill, by contrast, has opted to do a complete shakeup in the district’s leadership; swapping and moving around district administrators like many people swap shoes or socks.

But if you look closely it doesn’t seem as if his moves were simply arbitrary decisions or just change for the sake of change.

At Natchez High School, Hill has moved its athletic director and a former administrator in Concordia Parish schools into the top administrative position.

Fred Butcher will do well leading NHS. Some people within the district jokingly refer to Butcher as “Joe Clark.”

Clark is the legendary New Jersey teacher famous for taking a no holds barred approach to cleaning up a school in a rough neighborhood.

His story was told on film in “Lean on Me”

Butcher’s nickname fits him well.

He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy, who will not put up with any foolishness among students, teachers or other administrators.

He’s the kind of guy you want running a school. He’s confident and resolute and not afraid to work hard.

What I know of Butcher, which is mostly through the experiences of others, tells me that he cares about students and about doing things right.

That Hill managed to get Butcher to be principal may speak volumes about Hill’s leadership.

Unlike past superintendents who seem to shrink into the shadows when problems occur, so far at least, Hill seems resolved to stand up and talk openly and honestly to taxpayers.

Hill seems to have a plan, and he’s slowly but surely moving that plan along, despite a bunch of distractions, none of which were expected.

No one bothered to tell Hill on the job interview, for example, that the district hadn’t been properly managing school lunch money and thus owed more than $100,000 to the state.

Nor was it probably clear the district had been burning through its 16th Section land reserves.

Despite those two curveballs — and probably others we’re unaware of — Hill continues to plow ahead with his restructuring plans.

Hopefully all the unseen battles will not cause Hill to become disillusioned.

We need Hill and other school leaders to believe — beyond a shadow of a doubt — the district can improve. When the entire community sees that consistent leadership and vision, the schools will begin to overcome their public relations challenge.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.