Community members pushing for change in NASD system

Published 12:01 am Sunday, June 22, 2014

Illustration by Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Demorat

Illustration by Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Demorat

NATCHEZShould members of the Natchez-Adams School Board should be appointed or elected?

It’s a debate older than the graduates who walked the stage last month and many of the district’s teachers as well.

Despite decades of debate, the Natchez-Adams School District is now at a crossroads of sorts on the matter.

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The Natchez Board of Aldermen and Adams County Board of Supervisors recently passed resolutions in support of changing the NASD school board makeup to be elected rather than appointed.

The move came after another wave of outcry from members of the community who lobbied each board to pass the resolutions. The change would require special state legislation.

The latest uproar from residents has included objections to the firing of teachers and the reshuffling of students during a reorganization of the schools.

The Rev. Clifton Marvel, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has appeared before the aldermen, supervisors and school board to express his concerns about the way the district is being managed. Marvel said he believes an elected school board is the change the Natchez-Adams School District needs.

“I think it’s the best thing for the district because the community would have an opportunity to have input as to who sits on the board,” Marvel said.

Many in the community, Marvel said, feel they do not have a voice in the school district.

“I believe if the school board was (elected), they would be more conscientious of what they are doing and listen to the voice of the community,” he said.

Marvel said he does not have anything personally against any current school board member or NASD Superintendent Frederick Hill.

“I am just unhappy with their actions,” Marvel said. “They don’t have the compassion for community that they ought to have with their firing practices and the firing of employees, who have worked here for years and proven themselves, and bringing in other people from out of town and giving their jobs to them.”

The current school board is made up of President Tim Blalock, a local attorney; Thelma Newsome, an  educator; Benny Wright, a retired dentist; Ruth Nichols, assistant vice president for educational and community partnerships at Alcorn State University; and David Troutman, a retired Concordia Parish school teacher.

The Natchez aldermen and county supervisors appoint members to the five-member school board.

Blalock said he believes it is the “vocal minority” that is calling for a change on the school board.

Blalock said from the feedback he has received from residents, he believes a “silent majority” agrees with the actions of the board.

“For years and years, nobody has been held accountable for anything,” Blalock said. “It’s almost like we’re coming in there and suddenly the school board is doing their job and requiring accountability, and everybody suddenly seems offended, like, ‘How dare you make me do my job?’

“We’re not out there to fire everybody … but we want everybody to do their job. If you’re not there for the children, you need to take a long look at why you’re working at the schools.”

Blalock, Newsome, Troutman and Nichols all said they did not have strong opinions on whether or not an appointed or elected board was best for the district.

They said the quality of the board members and their willingness to work together is more important than if they are elected or appointed.

Hill agreed and said he has seen school boards function as both elected and appointed.

“It will not affect the district, because the education is going to be the same for the children,” he said. “I think the key thing is the board members chosen and are they going to come to the table and do the things needed for the district?”

Wright did not return multiple calls requesting comment.