EDITORIAL: Okolona's challenge

By NEMS Daily Journal

Sometimes it takes a real jolt to turn an untenable situation around. That may be happening in Okolona.
The state Department of Education in March took over the Okolona School District, citing poor academic performance and unstable finances, among the primary reasons.
Under state law, that meant removal of the superintendent and school board and appointment of a conservator to run the 650-student district until it got back on track. Mike Vinson, former superintendent in Rankin County and Tupelo, was called in for the job.
Students, teachers and the community could have put up their defenses and turned bitter or recalcitrant. It would have been a natural, if self-defeating, reaction.
Instead, they’ve taken the dramatic action as incentive to prove that they can do better, to change the perception of Okolona’s schools – and by extension the community – as failing.
Determined attitudes among students, teachers, parents and the community are prevalent in a report in Sunday’s paper by Daily Journal education reporter Chris Kieffer. The people he interviewed are convinced that good can come out of a situation that on the surface seems anything but.
This is exactly the attitude that’s needed.
Just as many businesses have sharpened their focus in the face of a tough recession, Okolona has been forced by its educational crisis to zero in on what matters most.
Students say teachers have ratcheted up their expectations, and many students are responding by taking their education more seriously. The community, meanwhile, is increasingly rallying around its schools in constructive efforts to turn things around.
They’ve got an ally in Vinson, who gets high marks for his accessibility and regular communication. The veteran administrator has spent the first couple of months on the job listening and learning about the district, and his experience and skills will be critical as the district moves into a more strenuous period of change with the 2010-2011 academic year.
Dealing with its own financial crisis won’t be made any easier for Okolona by state budget cuts, and circumstances could get more trying in the district with time. Yet it’s increasingly clear that the schools’ stakeholders are approaching this challenge in the right way.
Okolona’s schools didn’t get to the point of requiring state intervention overnight. The road to recovery – to a district whose management and academic performance can be a source of pride to the community – will be long and persistence required.
But the community has indicated it realizes the stakes involved, and that’s half the battle. Improved schools and a better community go hand-in-hand. More than ever, Okolona seems attuned to that reality and ready to move.