Hundreds sit in for talk about schoolsConsolidation only one part of discussions

Published 11:30 am Friday, October 5, 2012

More than 200 parents, guardians and even children attended 2012’s first Vicksburg Warren School District forum to discuss a range of issues Thursday night.

“In the first two forums, we developed a transformation plan based on what the community wanted us to focus on,” Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Swinford said of two forums the district hosted during the last school year, her first in charge of the 9,000-student system. “We’ve met most of those goals and now we’re going to continue expanding that transformation plan.”

Community discussions about the possibility of consolidating the district’s two high schools — Vicksburg and Warren Central — were expected to be at the fore during the meeting at Dana Road Elementary School, but it was only one of four that seemed to draw about an equal amount of interest from parents and guardians.

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After opening remarks, participants were divided into groups of up to eight people with a VWSD staff member at each table to record and discuss suggestions.

Discussions ranged from consolidation to prekindergarten offerings, Common Core Standards and how to keep the district’s test scores from regressing.

Each table was presented with a questionnaire meant to gauge feelings about the four topics.

District 1 Trustee and Board President Bryan Pratt said maintaining an open line of communication is vital for the district to continue improving.

“The whole purpose of the forum is to engage the community and the parents to find out what their concerns are and to communicate back what we’ve discovered in the previous forums,” Pratt said. “It’s a way for us to realign our objectives and make sure we’re in touch with the community’s wants and needs. It has to be a two-way street.”

Swinford said the forums are a step in the district’s efforts to become a highly successful school district.

After being rated as At Risk of Failing in 2010, VWSD was rated Successful by the Mississippi Department of Education this past year.

After discussing the scores, the basis for determining a school and district’s rating, Swinford said the district is not ready to delve into consolidation.

“I will not start the process until we can stand on our test scores,” Swinford said. “High-performing is where we want to be comfortable.”

With the implementation of Common Core Standards set for 2014, Swinford said the district would be looking for innovative ways to prepare students for the more rigorous state tests and curriculum.

“Once we have all the input, then we develop a plan,” Swinford said. “It’s just a work in progress. It’s an active document that my staff and I use to direct, and then redirect our work.”

Bridgett Harris, who has two children in the VWSD — Journey, a first-grader at Dana Road and Jamee Smith, a senior at Vicksburg High — said she is interested in the direction the district is headed.

“I’m just here to find out what’s going on and what we’re going to do to get back to where we were when I was in school,” Harris said.

The 1989 VHS grad and current Parent-Teacher Organization president at Vicksburg High said she also is concerned with a lack of prekindergarten programs districtwide.

“I know it’s a new day, but we have to get back to where we were when I was in school,” Harris said. “Having a pre-K program would help the community, especially if you had one at every elementary school.”

The district will host another forum Monday at 6 p.m. at Sherman Avenue Elementary School, 2145 Sherman Ave., and Swinford said she hopes to hold at least two more forums this year.

After the district’s second forum, the administration will collect all the questionnaires and quantify public opinion about each topic.

Parents of current students were not the only people interested in the forum.

Kimble Slaton, whose son, Kiefer, is a senior majoring in biomedical engineering at Mississippi State, said a strong school system is important not just to the students, but the local economy.

“My son got a great education at Vicksburg High, and I just want other kids to have the same opportunity,” Slaton said. “We need to have people who are well-educated who want to come back and work in Vicksburg.”