By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – State Superintendent Tom Burnham credited community involvement for Okolona School District’s progress that has resulted in the Mississippi Board of Education voting to return control of the system to local people.
The state Board of Education voted to relinquish its conservatorship of the 650-student district Friday during its monthly meeting. The state took over the district in February 2010 because of a litany of problems, including financial woes and poor student performance.
The next step in returning control to local people will involve Gov. Phil Bryant lifting a state of emergency put in place in 2010 by then-Gov. Haley Barbour. Bryant is expected to do that in the coming days.
“I am so elated this day has arrived,” Burnham said of Friday’s vote by the state board. “This is why we have this tool in place, to improve the school district and return it back to the community in better shape.”
Deputy State Superintendent Larry Drawdy, who oversees issues where local districts are placed in conservatorship, said “it is our intention” to have a local board in place by the start of the new school year.
A definite timetable could not be established because state Department of Education officials must work with the Attorney General’s office and local officials on the process of reconstituting the local board, which consists of three members appointed by the Okolona city government and two elected from the area of the system outside the district’s municipal boundaries.
The local board would hire a new superintendent. But for an unspecified period of time, Burnham said the state Department of Education would work with local officials to ensure the district continues to progress.
Burnham called it “phenomenal” that all of the students passed their subject area tests, a requirement to gradate, and that all are on track to graduate.
He said it was a credit “to the students, teachers and the community.”
He also praised state-appointed conservator Mike Vinson, a former Tupelo superintendent.
“He knows how to run a school district,” Burnham said. “One of the most important things he knew to do was involve the community.”
Burnham said the community involvement is the reason he is confident the district will remain on track. The system currently meets 35 of the 37 accreditation standards, which involve financial solvency, student safety and student achievement.
“Dr.Vinson says they will meet the other two before he leaves,” Burnham said.
When the district was taken over, it met only three accreditation standards.