School takeover a process

Published 12:12 am Saturday, October 19, 2013

NATCHEZ — Morgantown Middle School and Natchez High School employees being told they might not have a job come September was only part one of a four-step process required by the Mississippi Department of Education.

The process is necessary because both schools have received an “F” rating from the state for two consecutive years. Another “F” rating in September means the schools will be taken over by the state.

State legislation passed in 2010 requires MDE to administer the New Start School Program for schools that are failing for three consecutive years, beginning with the results from the 2009-2010 school year.

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The two schools in the Natchez-Adams School District are among approximately 50 schools in the state that could be taken over next year, Office of School Improvement Director Laura Jones said.

Those schools must comply with four MDE requirements in between the second and potential third year of consecutive “F” ratings.

Employee notice

All licensed and non-licensed employees in those particular schools must be given notice they will be terminated if the school receives another “F” rating.

NASD Superintendent Frederick Hill met with staff of both schools earlier this week to inform them of the situation.

If either school receives another “F” rating, Jones said every school employee — including the principal — is terminated and the process of finding replacements begins.

“What would happen than is that my boss, Dr. (Larry) Drawdy would come, hire a new principal and they would work together to hire a new staff,” Jones said. “That school would then report directly to them and not the local school board.”

Jones said employees who previously worked at the school are eligible to interview for the new positions.

“What I tell all the teachers and employees when I deliver this news is that if they’re doing their job and their students are growing, they’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” Jones said. “It’s the ones who aren’t doing their jobs that need to be worried.”

Jones said the state would use whatever resources available to fill any open positions left after interviewing those previous employees and others throughout the state.

Teach for America, Jones said, is one option the state might rely on to find teachers. The organization seeks to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach for at least two years in low-income communities through the Untied States, according to information on the organization’s website.

“There are several schools that have employed the Teach for America program, but there is a fee that goes along with that, which drives some people off,” Jones said. “But even that is a temporary fix because many of the Teach for America employees fulfill their agreements and leave.”

Other options, Jones said, include Mississippi Teacher Corps, which selects college graduates to teach in high-poverty schools in Mississippi, and finding teachers to come out of retirement.


Two of the other requirements state Hill or other members of the NASD Board of Trustees can only travel to events or conferences with state approval.

“What we told them is basically anything that is hosted by MDE, school board association, superintendent’s association or those things you’re going to learn information from are granted,” Jones said. “Anything else outside the norm, they need to get permission for.”

Hill said the travel decision will not impact the district as it previously trimmed its travel budget during recent across-the-board budget cuts.

“The few things we had planned were already preapproved MDE events,” Hill said.

Board member pay

The other part of the requirements states the per diem NASD board of trustees receive be cut in half.

Board members will begin receiving $100 a month instead of $200 beginning Nov. 1, Jones said.

Board President Wayne Barnett said the pay wouldn’t impact him because he isn’t on the board to make money.

“If I was in it for the money it would, but I’m not,” Barnett said. “We need to improve, and I think we are.”

 Example schools

Jones said there are only two districts — Oktibbeha County School District and Yazoo City Municipal School District — in Mississippi who have made it to the third year of failing accountability ratings.

The takeover of schools in those districts, Jones said, might be different than a takeover of Morgantown or NHS.

“In one of those, we ended up doing a full district audit and found out we needed to take over the whole district,” Jones said. “Those were different situations than what might be in Natchez.”

The uncertainty and exact details of the law, Jones said, are what MDE officials are hoping to clear up in the upcoming legislative session.

“We absolutely agree with the premise of the law, but there are certain things that aren’t logistically possible,” Jones said. “We can’t go into a school in September after school has been in session a month and a half and start looking for a new principal and staff.

“We’re trying to work with our legislators to get it fixed.”

Any guarantee the law would be amended or changed, however, is something Jones said school districts should not rely on.

“We’ve been telling all of them to work their tails off between now and September to get out of that ‘F’ category,” Jones said. “There’s no guarantee we’ll be able to change the law.”