Bovina school reopening awaits U.S. OK|[11/16/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 16, 2007

A federal OK is all that is left to refill the halls of Bovina Elementary next year.

The Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees voted Thursday night to seek Justice Department approval for zoning changes to allow the reopening of the building closed to students eight years ago.

Superintendent James Price said he expects the approval within 30 days. Federal involvement is required because the 9,000-student district, along with others in Mississippi and across the nation, has operated since the early 1970s under court orders that regulate racial balances. Today, the oversight remains, mostly as a shield that protects school officials from allegations of wrongdoing. Here, no changes to district zoning have ever been denied.

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Bovina Elementary, six miles east of Vicksburg, was closed when the district switched to choice-based enrollment. When the district returned to the community schools model five years later — meaning students attend the school closest to their homes — Bovina was not reopened. However, officials anticipated a reopening because of growth in the Bovina area.

The school is expected to house about 380 students. The majority — an estimated 180 — will come from Beechwood Elementary on Mississippi 27, currently the largest elementary in the district and home to about 700 students. The bulk of the remaining students will come from Sherman Avenue and Warren Central Intermediate, while the rest will come from schools across the district. About 35 teachers, cafeteria workers and custodians will staff the school.

Meanwhile, work to ready the building for next year continues. Previously used for storage, the building has been cleared out and now, “We’re going to paint the entire thing inside and out,” Price said. The main building was constructed in 1953 and 11 classrooms were added in 1987.

Also Thursday, several VWSD employees, including Beechwood Principal Jack Grogan, appeared before the board to discuss upcoming travel.

Grogan and two other teachers will go to Chicago in February for a conference on learning disabilities. Beechwood houses the district’s Early Education program that serves about 30 students with physical, emotional or mental disabilities. The center celebrated its 30th anniversary in October.

Although the majority of the district’s special needs students attend Beechwood, some go to other schools. Board member Zelmarine Murphy asked if other special education teachers would have an opportunity to go. Price said Grogan and the Early Education teachers have always shared information with the entire district.

“They are at the disposal of the other schools to share that information,” said Price. Federal funds will be used to fund the travel.

Vicksburg High School band director Terry Steed and Warren Central High School band director Allen Arendale will also travel to Chicago in December. Teacher travel and band funds will be used for those trips. And Laura Prather, the district’s supervisor of Curriculum and Federal Programs, will go to Nashville in January for a conference on Title I funding. The federal Title I programs, established by the U.S. Department of Education in 1965, distribute funding to schools and school districts with a high percentage of students from low-income families.

In his report to the board, Price said initiatives to maximize attendance continue to succeed. On several days, only 3 percent of students have been absent, which Price said is about the lowest realistic number that can be achieved.

The district is also making strides to reduce the dropout rate through better recordkeeping, he said. Before, the district would remove students from the rolls if school attendance officers were unsuccessful in tracking down absent students and the district was required to record those students as dropouts, even if notification arrived after the 20-day period. The notification that students were enrolled in another school system would often come too late, and the district would continue to be penalized for those students, Price said. However, the district appealed to the state and will now be relieved of the responsibility of students who withdraw without notifying the district. The district will now get credit for about 50 students who are enrolled elsewhere. “Parents don’t bother to stop by and tell us when they leave — or they can’t.”

Also Thursday, the board:

* Approved the minutes from the Oct. 25 board meeting

* Accepted donations totaling $250

* Approved the purchase of reading software for Beechwood

* Approved the purchase of a 24-foot panel truck