Local leaders expect big things for new year

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, January 1, 2014

NATCHEZ — Looking ahead to 2014, local leaders say residents should expect to see big things for the area in a year they predict will be fruitful for the Miss-Lou.

City of Natchez

In 2014, Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said he expects to move forward on several projects the city has on its radar.

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Brown expects to break ground on the renovation of the former railroad depot on Broadway Street and the farmer’s market Alcorn State University is building near it.

Brown also said the city will build a community center to replace the North Natchez Community Center, as well as make improvements to the Jack Wait Park and Duncan Park recreational facilities.

Brown plans to appoint members of a film commission and figure out a way to fund a film office director’s position in 2014.

With two years left until the city’s tricentennial celebration in 2016, Brown said he plans to continue the momentum gained this year in organizing the celebration.

Overall, Brown said he is excited about all that is on the horizon for Natchez in 2014.

“We’ve got a long list, and some of it may carry over into 2015, but we expect to make good progress this year,” Brown said. “We’ve got to make sure we keep our nose to the ground and sniff out every opportunity.”

Adams County

One of the biggest issues immediately facing the county in 2014 is the sale of Natchez Regional Medical Center, which Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said he expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

“I just don’t know, and I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to be the outcome of that,” Grennell said. “That’s one of the major things we will be dealing with, especially at the beginning of 2014.”

Other issues that face the county, Grennell said, include figuring out a plan to effectively collect past due sanitation bills.

Grennell said he would also like to see the county start a recycling program, first as a pilot program and then as a full-fledged program.

“The city has been doing it for several months now, and the reports I’ve been receiving indicate it is going well,” he said. “I would like to see county residents play a major role in recycling in 2014.”

City of Vidalia

The construction of a new technology center at the former Vidalia City Hall, the expansion of Vidalia’s broadband network, the city’s $20 million port and the unveiling of a multi-year master plan are projects Mayor Hyram Copeland said he is particularly excited for in 2014.

Copeland said the city is also garnering interest from a hotel group, restaurants and shops looking to locate to Vidalia.

“I anticipate 2014 will be one of the biggest years in the Miss-Lou and the region, due to the projects Vidalia is working on and Natchez is working on,” Copeland said. “I’m excited about what 2014 holds for the future, and I’m looking forward to it.”

School districts

Natchez-Adams County School District Superintendent Frederick Hill and Concordia Parish School Superintendent Paul Nelson say a state of flux in statewide school accountability systems and policies will present challenges for the districts in 2014.

But both superintendents say they, along with their staff, teachers and students, are up for what 2014 has in store.

Hill said he is disappointed NASD has two failing schools, but said he is optimistic about the improvements that will be made to Natchez schools in 2014.

Professional development to improve principals first then teachers will be a key in improving the district this year, Hill said.

The implementation of the district’s magnet school program in 2013 is also going to be a building block for improvement, Hill said. Robert Lewis Magnet School for STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math — opened in August for sixth-grade students.

“It has shown to be working based on the data we have seen from … tests we conduct every nine weeks,” Hill said. “It will serve as a model for the district to see how we can better other schools and how we can offer other options to students.”

The district also expects to add seventh- and eighth-grade classes to the magnet school in 2014, Hill said.

NASD has been plagued by financial concerns that resulted in budget cuts last year, and one of the first items on the district’s calendar for 2014 is creating a budget.

“We’ll have to look at whether we need additional cuts or if we can maintain what we have,” Hill said.

Nelson said this time last year he and other superintendents were concerned about having a voice in statewide changes to school accountability and district performance scores.

“That seems to have swung around, and the state superintendent and the governor’s office seem to be more inclusive in their outlook as far as trying to get local input on decisions,” Nelson said. “It gives me a very optimistic outlook based on this renewed dialogue between local and state leaders as we deal with Common Core and the PARCC Assessment.”

Nelson said the district will face a number of challenges, including building the new Ferriday Junior High School gym as well as dealing with decreased student counts in some areas.

With a $300 million surplus recently identified by the Louisiana treasury, Nelson is hopeful that previously cut funding will make its way back to the district.

Hopefully that money will be restored and help ease the anxiety (of the district’s financial responsibilities.)”

Given the constant change and challenges throughout 2013. Nelson is pleased with how the district’s staff, support staff, students and parents persevered.

“It would have been easy to fold up your tent and give up just out of pure frustration, but everyone did a good job,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to these new challenges, and we’re going to approach 2014 wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and optimistic.”