EDITORIAL: Okolonas schools

By NEMS Daily Journal

The expected vote by the Mississippi Board of Education placing the failed Okolona Public School District under a conservatorship is a necessary, painful action after years of inadequate performance under local leadership, including the board of trustees.
The bottom line “is about educating boys and girls,” state trustee Claude Hartley of Tupelo said Tuesday, and the Okolona district’s record shows that it is not reaching that most basic goal.
The vote on a conservatorship became inevitable when the Mississippi Commission on School Accreditation passed a resolution recommending a state takeover, allowed and specifically defined under the Children First Act.
Gov. Barbour is required to certify the necessity of the conservatorship, and Hartley said he believes the governor will act.
Conservatorship means the Okolona school board and the superintendent will be terminated. A conservator to be named by the state board will have broad executive powers to run the district and take decisive action to build it back to adequate performance.
One acute problem is the district’s solvency. It hasn’t enough funds to meet contractual obligations until the end of the 2010 budget year June 30. In addition, the district has failed to correct 21 academic deficiencies it has known about and has been working on since 2007. In fact, state testing measures show that student performance in Okolona has slipped in 2009-2010 compared to 2008-2009.
We believe the conservatorship will provide time for community soul-searching about public education support in Okolona.
Cumulative failures – board, administrative, classroom and community – over a span of years led to this week’s action. The tipping point was the financial inadequacy brought to the state’s attention by Superintendent Gregory Stephens, the fourth district superintendent in four years who assumed the position just last month.
No public school system thrives without enthusiastic community support – commitments to adequately finance schools, support for its programs, involvement as parents and supporters, a demand for board, administrative and faculty accountability, and banishing internal politics.
A conservatorship itself has specific requirements. The conservator, usually a person of proven experience, must present a recovery plan within 45 days.
Okolona has an opportunity to reactivate and strengthen its commitment to its children. Successful public schools repay communities many times over in opportunities created and people empowered to succeed.