• 48°

More than 400 back Price plan on school changes

[2/20/04]In response to the superintendent’s proposal to revamp local elementary schools, more than 500 people have turned in comment forms offering their opinions.

Superintendent James Price of the Vicksburg Warren School District said Thursday that about 85 percent of comments have been in favor of changing from a choice-based plan to zones.

“I’m very optimistic that we’ll have a good sampling so that we’ll know the voice of the community,” Price said. About 9,000 students are enrolled in the consolidated district.

Price has said to continue with the plan, he wants 60 percent approval from 10 percent of the adult population, or about 3,000 completed forms.

The forms, which went home with students Tuesday and Wednesday, must be turned into one of the 13 schools in the district or the district’s central office on Mission 66 by Tuesday.

The forms describe the proposal and its costs and answer a list of frequently asked questions.

“There are 13 questions answered on the form, but I have other questions,” said parent Sandy Dosie, who has two children in the district.

Dosie suggested Price host a public meeting so that parents have an opportunity to better understand the change.

Price has said for those with questions to contact any teacher, administrator or staff at the central office.

If the proposal has the community’s support, Price will ask the board of trustees for approval at Wednesday’s meeting. If approved by the board and then the U.S. Justice Department, Price said the community school configuration could be in effect by August.

But, he said, a lot of planning must come first.

“I’ve got to understand where every teacher will be and where every child will be so that we have no internal problems that we didn’t foresee,” he said.

In speaking engagements this week for the city’s RCTV-23 program “Speak Up” and the Vicksburg Rotary Club, Price again outlined his $10.5 million proposal.

It includes:

Building a new elementary inside city limits. City and school officials have discussed the possibility of renovating and reopening the former Carr Central High School property on Cherry Street. And until the new school is built, the students currently living in that area would be bused to the nearest school consistent with the racial balance;

Opening Bovina as an elementary;

Returning all elementaries to K-6 schools; and

Redrawing district lines to ensure racial balance.

Today’s school configuration, called the School Choice Program, was set up in 1999 to achieve the balance without having to redraw lines every few years. Under that plan, parents choose from one of three elementary schools in their respective zones, including the two new mega schools, Dana Road and Sherman Avenue. Bowmar Avenue is the only school in the district that draws from both zones. The district administration has the final say on where a student attends school in order to maintain the racial balance.

Price first introduced the proposal in December when he asked the board of trustees for a vote of support to ask the community and teachers’ opinions. The board voted 3-2 to allow him to continue.

The proposal has received unanimous support from principals, and nearly 90 percent of teachers and staff at each school were also in favor of the plan.

After hearing Price speak at the Rotary Club meeting Thursday, two former teachers said they were in support of the plan.

Betty Jackson, who taught in the district for eight years, said she supported the plan because “he’s right on target. Because of the maturity of children in the fifth and sixth grades, they need smaller community schools.”

Price has said that fifth- and sixth-grade students are not socially ready to be in a junior high-like setting.

And Toni Lanford, who taught in the district for 15 years, said the community should support Price’s ideas.

“I think we are so fortunate to have James Price as our school superintendent,” Lanford said, noting Price’s passion for the job. “We need to get behind him. If we don’t support him, then we have ourselves to blame.”