By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The Aberdeen School District is now officially under state control, its School Board members removed and a conservator appointed to run it.
The state Board of Education on Friday unanimously agreed the district is in “an extreme emergency situation” and should be taken over by the state. Gov. Phil Bryant later declared an official state of emergency.
The state board also named Bob Strebeck, 61, as conservator. He served in similar positions in four other districts, most recently in Sunflower County.
The governor’s declaration completed the process of the state taking over the district.
“After a thorough review, it is imperative for the state to obtain control of the Aberdeen School District and take immediate steps so the district can begin to recover from serious leadership and management deficiencies,” Bryant said in a statement. “Accreditation violations, state and federal law violations and a continued pattern of poor student performance are unfortunate and will not be tolerated. The students and community of Aberdeen deserve better.”
State Superintendent Tom Burnham expressed confidence that Strebeck can turn around the troubled system.
Aberdeen is the eighth district currently under state control. Neighboring Okolona was placed under conservatorship in 2010. Former Tupelo Superintendent Mike Vinson is Okolona’s conservator.
“My point to the folks in Aberdeen would be to look up the road to their neighbors in Okolona,” Burnham said. “Look at the leadership Dr. Vinson has brought to that district and community.
“When you walk through the school, you see students are on task and teachers are teaching. We believe it will show up in their student performance. I think you will see the same thing in Aberdeen.”
Burnham said Strebeck, a Decatur resident, has a knack for identifying the problems in a district and working to correct them. Burnham said Strebeck will begin by ensuring everything is in place for graduation.
The state board voted to take over the Aberdeen district after an audit by the Department of Education alleged a litany of problems, ranging from safety issues to poor academic performance to school board interference in district operations. The audit found Aberdeen failed to meet 31 of 37 accreditation standards.
Burnham said Aberdeen has the opportunity to make dramatic improvements because “from everything I understand, Aberdeen has an excellent teacher force.”
The Aberdeen School Board by a 3-2 vote fired Superintendent Chester Leigh in December. Bobby Eiland, who has been interim superintendent, will resume his responsibilities as director of operations, though Strebeck will have leeway to make any personnel changes he deems appropriate.
Strebeck’s contract will be for $199,000 annually with $170,000 identified as salary. The other will be for travel and other expenses, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Education.
The district has about 1,470 students and an academic watch ranking in the latest Board of Education accreditation report. But that accreditation could be withdrawn as part of the state takeover.