Big changes from schools would be 3rd since 1987

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 2, 2004

[1/27/04]A return to community schools would be the third major realignment since the consolidated district serving Warren County was created.

In 1987, the area’s two separate school districts, Vicksburg Municipal Separate School District and the Warren County Public Schools, merged, creating the first changes.

The two districts had been operating under separate desegregation orders dating to the 1960s.

As a result of the merger, the consolidated district called the Vicksburg Warren School District was required to come up with its own attendance zone plan that created a racial balance reflecting the area’s total population.

In April 1989, a desegregation plan was approved by a U.S. District Court judge, and the judge gave the district a year to complete the plan. The plan was to racially balance the nine elementary schools, endorse magnet programs at Grove Street and Bowmar elementaries and add an elementary school at the former Warren Central Junior High School building. The school is now Beechwood Elementary School.

The plan was devised to achieve racial mixing without substantially altering the existing school zones.

At the time, Bowmar and Grove Street were in predominantly black neighborhoods, and nearly 100 percent of the student population was black.

Under the new desegregation plan, each school was to have 200 slots for white children and 200 slots for minorities.

In theory, the magnet schools would attract new students because it would offer basic education, and advanced courses in special areas such as language arts, math, science and art, along with extended-day activities.

Grove Street was to be a partial magnet school; one magnet class was offered in each grade. Bowmar was a total magnet school and remains that way today.

Students were accepted at the magnet schools on a first-come, first-served basis, if it was determined that the student had:

Scored at least a 50 percent on standardized achievement tests;

A C-plus grade point average or better; and

A written recommendation from a teacher or principal.

Also under the desegregation plan, the junior high and high schools were merged, and the county was halved. Those who lived in the north would attend Warren Central High School, and those in the south would attend Vicksburg High School. That part of the plan is intact.

The district applied for $1.2 million in seed grant from the federal government to start the magnet schools at Bowmar and Grove Street. The request for federal funds was denied in August 1989, but school board members voted to fund the magnet schools locally using some of the district’s $1.07 million in 16th Section land funds. The expected cost to run the program at Grove Street was $114,300, and $222,400 at Bowmar.

The next major change in the district came in 1997 when the U.S. Justice Department approved the $32 million School Choice makeover. The idea for the plan was brought forth by a consulting firm that assessed the district’s needs. It was designed to encourage elementaries to compete for students from anywhere within north and south zones.

The plan was to eliminate individual elementary districts and impose the required racial balance administratively.

The program closed five elementary schools and opened two megaelementary schools, on Dana Road and Sherman Avenue, costing a total $25 million to build. The remaining $7 million was spent on renovating other schools.

The new program left three elementaries in each zone, and Bowmar was allowed to remain a magnet, still drawing students from both zones.