Burnham encouraged by Okolona school progress

By Lisa Voyles/Chickasaw Journal

OKOLONA – The Okolona school district has come a long way but still has work to do, according to the state superintendent of education.
Dr. Tom Burnham spoke to parents, educators and others on the state of the district Thursday night at the high school. About 75 people heard him offer words of encouragement as well as urge community members to stay involved to make more positive changes occur.
“One step at a time is what’s happening with conservatorships in Mississippi and one step at a time is what’s happening here in Okolona,” Burnham said.
The Okolona district was remanded into conservatorship in January 2010 due to poor academic rankings and financial instability. Burnham commended administration, faculty and staff for making extra efforts in the last year to correct the issues.
Burnham said the goal of a conservatorship is to restore the school and return it to the community as the governing body, but also said the state will not release a school from conservatorship until it is satisfied that it will be able to function independently.
“On a local basis, we are delighted with what is happening here,” Burnham said. “We are elated with the leadership Dr. (Mike) Vinson has brought and we are elated with the way the faculty, staff and community have embraced that leadership. This is an opportunity to bring our school and community back together.”
Burnham said sustained financial stability and academic success are key to releasing a school from conservatorship and, even then, the state will reserve the right to oversee the district and step in again if needed.
He said the Okolona district will remain in conservatorship until the state feels it is financially and academically stable, but told those present he feels very positive steps have been taken toward that end.
He confirmed to audience members that Vinson will remain as conservator for the upcoming 2011-12 school year and promised continued support from the Department of Education.
“Dr. Vinson is committed,” Burnham said. “He is determined that we’re going to get this done. We’re going to work as hard as it takes, as long as it takes to make a difference.”