Natchez Early College setting a high bar

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, June 5, 2022

Wednesday evening, I had the pleasure of presiding over the 2nd Annual NECA Celebration – an event I began last year as Mayor to commend the accomplishments of graduates of the Natchez Early College Academy, an amazing program we can all be proud of.

Earlier in the day, I had the pleasure of being the keynote speaker at a bi-partisan political luncheon in Madison, “Grip-N-Grin”, where over 120 Mississippians, including judges, sheriffs, legislators, community leaders and even Federal officials, heard news of the Natchez Renewal. During my presentation, I told them about NECA, and the reaction was amazing – the applause tremendous! At that moment it struck me that this program truly is something unusual, yet something we in Natchez have been prone to take for granted.

Started as an experimental program just seven years ago, NECA has become celebrated as one of the top programs of its type in the country. In 2020 it was recognized in the Top Ten nationally, and, even after the challenges of the covid pandemic, NECA continues to achieve great results. Under the leadership of Principal Heather Jackson and Co-Lin VP Sandra Barnes, with the full support of the Natchez-Adams School District and Co-Lin Board of Trustees, this unique high school is currently ranked as one of the best high schools in Mississippi – and even the country.

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As one of the only programs of its type in Mississippi, NECA enrolls students from 9th through 12th grades on an accelerated educational track where students can earn their high school and associates’ college degrees simultaneously. Wednesday evening, we honored 40 NECA Graduates who have now received both their high school diploma and two-year associates’ college degree from Co-Lin. All of these graduates will soon be entering college as juniors, two years ahead of their peers, many with scholarships and 4.0 GPAs. Some actually have earned GPAs higher than a 4.0, which I didn’t even realize was possible!

I first became aware of NECA when, in my former life as a state lobbyist, I had the pleasure of greeting a group of NECA students at the Mississippi State Capitol. I was immediately impressed by these outstanding young people, most of whom come from economically-challenged backgrounds and yet have persevered to achieve and accomplish so much.

After becoming Mayor, I learned even more about this program. When I found out that the majority of these students also held jobs to help out at home, I became convinced that recognition by the city was a must. Thus this annual city celebration was born. Last year, Natchez Community Liaison Frances Wallace put her heart and soul into making the event special – God bless her soul. And this year, Community Liaison Neifa Hardy did not disappoint, and the program was tremendous!

In a day where our schools are the target of much criticism, it is important to point out the positives. And it is important that we applaud the administrators, teachers and parents for all they have done – and congratulate these amazing young people who now are on their way to bright futures that will mean so much to our community, state and nation. Indeed these students have set the bar high. They truly embody all of the reasons Natchez Deserves More.

Dan Gibson is the mayor of Natchez.