Price stepping down as school superintendent|Deputy Walls, two principals also leaving

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 31, 2010

After seven years at the helm of Vicksburg Warren School District, Superintendent Dr. James Price will retire June 30, he said Tuesday.

“I’ve enjoyed the challenge,” Price said. “There were challenges when I came, challenges while I was here and there will be challenges when I’m gone.”

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The Vicksburg Warren School District was formed July 1, 1987, when the former Vicksburg Municipal Separate School District and Warren County Public Schools merged. Superintendents since then:

• Ed Gilley

• Charles Craft

• Robert Pickett

• Donald Oakes

• James Price

Price, 58, informed the 9,000-student district’s principals at an administrators meeting Tuesday, then phoned school board members.

“It’s time for someone else to assume a leadership role,” he said.

With Deputy Superintendent Dr. John Walls also retiring at the end of the school year, the district will lose its top two administrators. In addition, principals Jack Grogan at Beechwood Elementary School and Charles “Bubba” Hanks at Redwood Elementary will retire June 30.

“We’re sorry to see Dr. Price leave,” said Tommy Shelton, vice president of the five-member trustee board elected from the county’s five supervisor districts. “He’s done a great job and served the district well for a number of years. He’s a great financial manager, which we will miss in these tough economic times.”

Zelmarine Murphy, elected president of the trustees this month, was not available. Trustees are scheduled to meet April 29, but a special meeting might be called sooner to begin the process of finding a new superintendent.

Price began his career in the district as a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher in 1991 after serving as principal and teacher at Oakley Training School in Raymond and a career in private business.

In Vicksburg, Price rose quickly into administration, becoming an assistant principal in 1993, followed by terms as elementary and intermediate principal and administrative assistant to former Superintendent Donald Oakes.

He became the fifth superintendent of the consolidated school district July 1, 2003, on a 3-2 vote by school board members.

Looking back, Price described the job as “a very consuming” position. “You do this all or nothing,” he said. He’s known as an early riser and was on the job daily before daylight.

Walls had worked with Price previously when both were assistant principals at Warren Central Junior High. “He has managed the district’s resources very well,” Walls said. “That’s why we’re in the shape we’re in financially.”

In Price’s first year, the district budget was $65.3 million. He has proposed an $80 million budget for next year, which trustees have not yet finalized. It reflects 88 fewer employees than the district had two years ago, eliminated through attrition, not layoffs. The district’s budgets have required a local tax increase only one time during Price’s tenure.

Price initiated a number of changes in the district, including instituting a community school plan in 2005 that returned all elementary schools in the district to K-6 configurations and required students to attend schools closer to home unless a parent provided transportation. The previous plan used the newest elementaries, Sherman Avenue and Dana Road, for all fifth- and sixth-graders. Price said he wanted parents to identify with and become involved with smaller schools, including the reopened Bovina Elementary.

Price also created the Youth Court Assistance Center at the Grove Street School, a program that allows the Warren County Youth Court and the school district to work together to help misbehaving or at-risk students.

“It’s unlike any other in the state,” he said. “We share information and ideas and we work together for the children — to do things for the children, not to the children. It’s not a punitive facility.”

In an era overwhelmingly overshadowed by 2003’s federal directive, “No Child Left Behind,” Price also oversaw the development of detailed curriculum guides and began the process of testing students weekly to help prepare them for end-of-year performance tests required by the state. The accountability system encompassing individual students and teachers as well as schools and the district as a whole is a model he said he is proud to have initiated.

“I’m pleased to have been able to work with some of the best teachers and administrators around,” he said. In addition, he praised the community support he received from local organizations and businesses, particularly when he added extra school days to the calendar in an attempt to provide extra help for students falling behind. The intercession plan did not prove popular with students and parents, however, and was terminated after two years.

At the same time, tougher achievement tests saw the schools’ ratings decline in the most recent state evaluation. During most of Price’s years, most of the schools in the district were rated “level 3,” mid-range on the 5-level scale that compared schools statewide. The 2009 rating, comparing the district to those nationwide over a two-year period, was sixth of seven rankings, At Risk of Failing.

Price’s initiatives also addressed those students falling outside the traditional academic track, however. He reinstated a GED program at Grove for former dropouts as well as a vocational program that focuses on over-age students.

With his pending retirement, he remained enthusiastic discussing his hopes for the future of vocational training for younger students rather than expecting or demanding that all follow a college-prep curriculum.

“I hope it will take off,” he said. “Children need another avenue, and that’s one of the things I’ll be an advocate for.”

Price said he has few specific plans other than to take some time to adjust to retirement. His wife, Cassandra, will retire Thursday, he said, after 34 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mississippi Valley Division, and she’ll get a head start on making plans. “I’ll wait for her to tell me what to do,” he said. “When the dust settles, I’ll still be active in other arenas.”


Contact Pamela Hitchins at