NASD Superintendent: Restructuring schools best way to succeed

Published 12:12 am Friday, February 14, 2014

NATCHEZ — Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Frederick Hill brought a message of change before the Board of Trustees Thursday, saying that keeping the district’s school structures as they are is insane.

“The definition of insanity is to continue doing the same thing and expect different results,” Hill said. “That’s what happened over the last two years.”

Hill’s statement for change in the district came toward the end of the board’s meeting, when the superintendent explained a preliminary proposal to restructure the district’s middle and high schools into smaller learning communities.

Email newsletter signup

Hill listed several programs and initiatives the district has done in the last two years that have helped move the district forward, such as an extended school day program that allows students to attend school in the afternoon.

“Those are band aids,” Hill said. “We’re making some moves to make the district better, but what are we doing different that’s going to get us caught up with the rest of the districts performing well in Mississippi?”

Hill’s proposal included establishing three different smaller learning communities for students: middle school academies, an early college model and a career academy.

All of those, Hill said, are structured around the idea of smaller classes and more personal teacher instruction with students. Hill said the district has seen success with that at Robert Lewis Magnet School, a program created at the former Robert Lewis Middle School with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math.

“How do we know this is going to work at Morgantown and Natchez High? Go look at Robert Lewis Magnet School right now,” Hill said. “They have smaller class sizes, the teachers can provide more one-on-one instruction and we know it’s working.

“So why not model that throughout the district?”

A middle school academy would serve as a school within a school at Morgantown Middle School and would feature three academies or focuses of study: leadership, arts or college prep.

Students in grades 6 through 8 would pick a specific academy at the beginning of the year, but could switch at the end of the year if they wanted.

The early college model would enroll 100 students and offer them a mixture of high school and college classes with the goal of taking advanced courses during their 9th and 10th grade years before moving on to dual-enrollment classes during their 11th and 12th grade years.

The model would allow a student to finish the program with a high-school diploma and an associate degree or up to two years of college credit.

The career academy would restructure the Fallin Career and Technology Center and offer students entering in 9th grade a three- or four-year program.

Board member Benny Wright asked Hill if parents would have a decision in which smaller learning community a student could attend and what course of study they would choose at that new school.

“These are major life decisions, so parents must be involved,” Hill said. “Just like at Robert Lewis, there’s an expectation and requirement of parental involvement that would be the same at all of these.”

Hill reviewed a few of the implications of the changes with the board, one of which would be that athletics could take a back seat to academics at the high school.

Hill said teachers who also coach that have seventh period designated as a coaching or off period would no longer have that period away from instruction.

Having those teachers available for one more period in the day means the schools could offer more smaller, personalized learning environments.

“That’s a hard one to deal with, especially in Mississippi,” Hill said. “But when you all reevaluate me, I guarantee you the question will not be, ‘How many trophies have you brought into the district?’

“I feel strongly we have to put academics first.”

Hill said after the meeting the district is in a good position to implement the changes as far as infrastructure with no new buildings needed.

“The only thing we need to look at is personnel and seeing if we have the right people to get the job done,” Hill said. “I think we have the number of people to get it done. We just need to figure out if they’re ready and able.”

Hill said he would begin meeting with students, parents and other members of the community to receive feedback on the plan before presenting a finalized plan for implementation to the board in March.

All of the schools and programs in the proposal, Hill said, would be created and ready to begin in August for the 2014-2015 school year.