Memphis-based foundation eyes program for Natchez schools

Published 12:10 am Sunday, April 20, 2014

NATCHEZ — A high school, community college and university are all assets that have a Memphis-based foundation considering bringing its program to Natchez.

City of Natchez and Natchez-Adams School District officials visited Memphis Wednesday to tour East High School and get an overview of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs at the school, as well as Mid South Community College in West Memphis, Ark.

A magnet school was created in the NASD for the first time this school year at the site of the former Robert Lewis Middle School.

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The school, NASD officials have said, is aimed to expose students to STEM curriculum and project-based learning methods. The school will expand to include seventh- and eighth-grade students next school year.

The officials also got a look at a peer-tutoring program called Peer Power that Charles McVean started nearly a decade ago at East High School and has since expanded to other schools in Tennessee and Mississippi.

Peer Power is a non-profit organization that recruits high-performing high school and college students to tutor younger public school students in a variety of subjects to improve their standardized test scores and college or job readiness, according to the organization’s website.

Each school’s principals independently manage the programs, and tutors are paid an hourly wage.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said McVean is interested in creating and funding a similar program in Natchez.

“With a good school facility, a community college and a four-year university, (McVean) thinks (Natchez) is perfectly postured for a program here,” he said.

Brown said he believes the model that is working in Memphis could be adopted in Natchez.

“I think the goals and the vision would be the same,” he said. “We obviously have a student population that is not performing very well … and hopefully we can use the … schools, community college and Alcorn to build a very powerful program.”

Brown’s comments on student performance are tied to the school district receiving low accountability ratings from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Four of the schools in the district received “F” ratings from MDE in September, with only one school receiving a “C” rating. The district overall also received an “F” rating.

Efforts to reach McVean and NASD Superintendent Frederick Hill were unsuccessful.