Community schools plan wins final federal OK

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 28, 2004

[7/28/04]The Vicksburg Warren School District community-school plan to return all fifth- and sixth-graders to an elementary-school setting has been given final approval by federal officials.

“I’m pleased that the Justice Department has given us the OK to move back to the community school concept,” said Superintendent James Price, who was selected to administer the district a year ago and proposed the idea in December. “It was a lengthy process, but it is one that will pay tremendous dividends in the future.”

Beginning in the fall of 2005, community schools will require all kindergartners through sixth-graders, except those in the Bowmar magnet program, to attend the school closest to their homes.

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The alignment will replace the choice-based program started in 1999 under which most elementaries were K-4 and all fifth- and sixth-graders have attended one of the district’s two intermediate schools. Warren Central Intermediate is housed in Sherman Avenue School and Vicksburg Intermediate is housed in Dana Road School. Both schools opened that year and also contain K-4 elementaries.

Although school trustees had approved the change 5-0, the OK received Monday from federal officials was needed because the district remains under a continuing desegregation decree from the 1960s.

Racial balances under the new attendance zones will be as good or better at each school than has been the case with choice.

After Price announced his proposal sixth months into his tenure at the helm of the 9,000-student district, he followed a schedule of presenting it to faculties at every school, the public and the Board of Trustees.

“We took the notion to the community, administration, faculty and staff and everyone overwhelmingly said they wanted to do it, so we did it,” he said.

Price cited many reasons for the change, all keyed to increasing the school environment and quality of instruction.

“I’ve lived and worked with these students in that environment, and I’ve seen firsthand that we can do a better job in a different configuration,” he said, citing high discipline rates in the intermediate schools compared with other schools in the district.

Price was principal of Vicksburg Intermediate when it opened in 1999 under the School Choice Plan.

School attorney Jim Chaney said a good working relationship with the federal officials was likely the reason for the approval.

“They know we’re trying to do what’s best for the children, and they try to work with us,” Chaney said.

The Justice Department also approved School Choice in 1997.

In the community school initiative this year, the five-member school board first was split on the issue giving Price the go-ahead to seek approval from the community and faculty on a 3-2 vote, with Trustees Betty Tolliver and Zelmarine Murphy dissenting.

But after seeking public and faculty opinions and a tentative OK from the Justice Department, the board unanimously approved the change in April.

“We’re very excited that our plan was approved,” said board President Jan Daigre, who represents District 4. “We’re hopeful that the district’s discipline problems will be reduced and the educational needs of our children will be met more efficiently.

“We hope the overall change will be positive for the children, the teachers and the community.”

Price said he and the administrative staff will spend the coming school year preparing for the change.

“We will make sure everybody knows where their zone is, and we’ll begin to look at staff placement for next year what fifth- and sixth-grade teachers will go where.”

He said teacher placements would likely be complete by the winter break.

For this school year, teachers report Monday and students start classes Thursday.