School officials preparing for university visits

Published 12:10 am Monday, March 24, 2014

NATCHEZ — Representatives from the Natchez-Adams School District will travel to eight universities in Mississippi and Louisiana in the next three weeks aiming to bring the best and brightest teachers to the district’s classrooms.

NASD Superintendent Frederick Hill, community and dropout prevention/recovery liaison Orlando Pannell, school board members and others will divide a travel itinerary beginning Wednesday and ending April 11.

The teacher recruitment trips are scheduled for the following schools:

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• Delta State University

• University of Mississippi

• Mississippi State University

• Jackson State University

• Alcorn State University

• Louisiana State University

• Mississippi Valley State University

• Grambling State University

Pannell will take the first three universities on the list and said the trips are all about selling Natchez and the school district to soon-to-be teachers.

“First, I start off talking about the school district and letting them know that they are coming into a failing district and it will be a challenge, but if they’re up for it, then we’re where they want to be,” Pannell said. “Then you pitch the history of Natchez and tell them everything about the city.

“It’s a high level of selling because you have a short amount of time to get them interested.”

Efforts to recruit, employ and retain highly qualified teachers and other non-certified staff were something the school board asked Hill to begin doing when he took over the district in 2012.

District officials have been conducting a variety of recruiting efforts since then, including monthly advertisement of the vacancies with the Mississippi Department of Education to contacting and visiting colleges and universities across the state.

Pannell said he believes changes to the district that were approved last week by school board members will draw interest from graduating students looking for something new and innovative. Three schools in the district — Morgantown Middle School, Natchez High School and Fallin Career Academy — will be restructured to create smaller learning communities for students.

The changes are structured around the idea of smaller learning classes and more personal teacher instruction.

“It’s going to be appealing to these students, because it’s not the traditional setup,” Pannell said. “You have an opportunity to be involved in some new ideas early on where your input could be used to help move the district forward.

“I think it’s a valuable asset we can use to get people to the district.”

Hill has said the need to recruit new, highly qualified teachers to the area is a top priority, but is also an issue in a struggling school district.

“Until we become a high-performing school district, we’re not going to have people knocking down the door to come to Natchez,” Hill said at a previous school board meeting. “When we go into recruiting lines and we have those high performing school districts around us, we’re not the first ones they go to.

“I’m not saying we’re going to stop recruiting, but it’s going to take some effort on our part.”

The upcoming recruiting trips will cost an estimated $2,518, which is being paid through federal funds.

School board policy requires approval for all out-of-state travel and in-state travel costing more than $550 in a month for one district employee. The board unanimously approved the request for staff travel at its monthly meeting.