PT: inside local sunday
By Monique Harrison
OKOLONA – A group of about 50 parents and community leaders concerned about what they see as a lack of discipline at Okolona High School are banding together in hopes of improving conditions.
“There are some kids at the school that are just really rowdy – disruptive,” said Eddy Dickey, minister at Gatlin Street Church of Christ and the initiator of an organizational meeting held last week. “The only problem with the faculty is that they are not enforcing rules like they should. There are some dangerous situations at that school.”
Some of those dangerous situations were discussed by Dickey and other concerned citizens at the organizational meeting.
Parents said fireworks were lit in the hall, putting students at risk.
“My daughter had a firecracker sail over her head,” Dickey said. “I don’t want to seem over-protective, but if that thing had hit her, it could have caused hearing damage or vision damage. And that’s serious.”
The parents also said security was lax at the 500-student school, which houses grades seven through 12.
They said they’d like to see more teachers and administrators supervising the loading and unloading of buses before and after school. The group also said teachers were hard to find after class and that office personnel did not welcome parental involvement.
Okolona Superintendent of Education Jimmy McCalla said if the problems parents were describing did exist at the school, it was the first he’d heard of it.
“It was all news to me,” McCalla said. “I’d not heard anything about these problems from either the principal or teachers there.”
McCalla said he thinks some of the complaints are legitimate, but that others are nothing more than rumors blown out of proportion.
“There are problems,” he said. “But when I’ve gone to check out some of these more extreme rumors, I never seem to find anyone who saw the events firsthand. I’m not sure what’s going on.”
The school’s principal, Jerome Smith, said he did not attend the meetings because he was not invited.
He said that he and McCalla had “butted heads in the superintendent’s office” about some of the criticisms addressed at the meeting, but that no formal action had been taken to address the problems.
Smith would not comment on the validity of parent and community criticisms, saying McCalla was the ultimate spokesman for the district.
Dickey said he has seen some improvement since the meeting was held. He said there are now more teachers patrolling the hall and school grounds when buses were being loaded and unloaded. He also said two Okolona Police Department squad cars had been parked outside the school several days last week, answering several parents’ requests for police assistance.
Mayor Bill Whitt said the police department, which is under his direction, would do everything possible to assist the school, provided other duties were not neglected.
“We’re a small town with a small budget and that makes things difficult,” Whitt said. “We can’t be expected to patrol the school eight hours a day. But we will do what we can when officers aren’t answering other calls.”
The department has only two officers on duty during school hours.
Whitt, who has a child that is a senior at the school, said he has heard the complaints before.
“I hear things about education because I’m not involved in it, just as people in education probably hear things about city business that I’ll never know,” said Whitt, whose wife teaches at the school.
School board member George Mayfield said he’s working to identify the root of the problem.
“I didn’t know about most of these problems,” said Mayfield, who has been on the board for just two months. “I’m going to find out why these things are happening and what I can do to help. Things shouldn’t have gotten to this point. But since this group has only had one meeting, it’s kind of hard to tell.”