Could a wealthy white man from Memphis have a plan that could help improve Natchez’s mostly black public schools?
And, more important, does the man’s skin color or wealth actually matter?
Those questions bubbled up last week after a seemingly successful commodities investor, Charlie McVean, came to Natchez with an idea for how to improve the much-beleaguered Natchez-Adams School District.
Most folks probably know about the struggles of the public school district by now. After a court-mandated, rushed merger a few decades ago, the formerly excellent Natchez and South Natchez high schools became one.
Rapidly, the public schools became the place best avoided by the great majority of local parents of means or with the willingness to beg or borrow money to afford non-public education.
The result is the public schools – rightly or wrongly – have the reputation for being bad. State test scores indicate the public schools are less than stellar to put it mildly.
Had the district not reorganized its structure, the state’s education department may have taken over management of the district this year.
Enter the white-haired gentleman with tortoise-shell glasses from Memphis.
His idea is relatively simple – play to your strengths and pay your strengths.
The answer is by utilizing the best and brightest students in the schools to mentor the struggling students.
It’s an interesting idea but one that doesn’t seem like it’s all that complicated and thus likely not to be all that effective, right? Doesn’t the complicated nature of programs usually yield success?
Less is usually more in most cases, and McVean’s suggestion – which came to him while he was tipping a young server at a restaurant – is true to form.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, McVean wants schools to simply hire their top students to tutor and guide the struggling students.
McVean’s Peer Power program has worked, organizers say, in several troubled Memphis-area schools.
Trying it in Natchez seems to make sense.
The risk of not trying it is that more students will drop out this year and face a much higher probability of falling into a life of low-paying jobs or, worse, crime.
The next challenge will be in determining how to fund the program. The district would almost certainly raise its hands and say it cannot afford to do it alone.
Could the district find the ability to fund the program for two years or more simply by reducing the salaries – or even a position or two – of the upper echelon of the administration?
It would seem worth it in the long run, even if it saved one young man or young woman from dropping out of school.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at kevin.coopernatchezdemocrat.com or (601) 445-3539.