By Monique Harrison

Daily Journal

The Tupelo Public Schools Board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the centralization of all pre-kindergarten and Head Start programs at Lawhon Elementary School.

The move is designed to eliminate the duplication of services at different schools.

Classrooms currently being used for Head Start and Pre-K programs at Church Street, Pierce Street, Joyner and Thomas Street will be freed up for other uses.

Several classrooms at Lawhon now stand empty, so space is not a problem, Assistant Superintendent Glenn McGee said.

About $40,000 has been budgeted for renovations at the school, with most of the work being done in-district. Air-conditioning and plumbing will consume most of that money.

There is concern that some students might not be able to participate in the program because they won’t have transportation.

State law does not permit pre-kindergarten students to be transported on regular school buses, so parents of those children are required to provide transportation.

Because preschoolers now attend classes in their neighborhood, many of them walk to school, escorted by parents or another adult.

“Transportation is a concern,” McGee said.

Students enrolled in federally funded Head Start, a program that provides the same basic services as Pre-K to both 3- and 4-year-olds, have their transportation provided.

Officials are also working to devise a lunch schedule that will enable cafeteria workers to feed the 140 youngsters expected to be enrolled in the program next year.

McGee said an old cafeteria at Lawhon could be reopened if necessary. Before Tupelo Middle School was built, Lawhon served students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and before that, it served as a high school.

“Those buildings haven’t been used in a long time,” McGee said. “We want to get the most out of the facilities that we had. This is a good way to do that.”

NAACP grievances

In an unrelated matter, the board also heard a presentation from Lee County NAACP Education Committee Chairman Robert Jamison.

Jamison, who is the pastor of New Providence Missionary Baptist Church, presented the board with a list of 11 requests.

Jamison said the board’s policy of giving principals the authority to hire teachers ensured few blacks were hired.

“The principals are almost all Caucasian,” he said. “This guarantees African-Americans won’t be hired.”

Jamison also expressed concern over what he sees as a low number of minority administrators.

There are currently only four blacks in administrators at the school-level. Of those four, two have announced plans to retire at the end of the year.

Jamison said the NAACP wants a guaranty those retiring blacks will be replaced by qualified blacks.

The pastor also criticized the district for what he sees as a disproportionate number of black students being suspended or sent to the Bissell Center – a school designed to discipline and rehabilitate students who are repeat offenders.

When asked if he could provide the board with some examples, he said he could. But because of the sensitive nature of the discussion, Board President Polly Bailey asked Jamison to submit his documentation in writing or to discuss it privately, to avoid inadvertently identifying the students being discussed.

Board members said they shared Jamison’s concerns and would look into the matter.

Zoning crack-down planned

The board also voted to adopt a three-tier zoning system designed to equalize racial imbalances at the district’s two intermediate schools, which serve students in grades five and six.

Milam has a minority population of 40 percent, while King has a minority population of 27 percent.

Ideally, district officials say they would like to see schools with a minority population of about 38 percent, to ensure racial balance and diversity.

To adjust those numbers, the district has a three-step plan.

First, the district is going to crack down on intermediate students attending class out of their school zone. Officials believe this crack-down will be enough to provide more racial balance at the schools.

If that doesn’t work, the district will move to step two – repealing previously granted transfers. The transfers would be repealed only in cases when they would improve racial balance at the school in their zone.

Finally, if racial balance still isn’t achieved, the district plans to modify existing intermediate school zones.

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