OUR OPINION: Facilities play big role in success of schools

The Lee County School District’s process of planning for improvements and additions at most of its schools has not been hampered by a termite-and-black-mold delay in a structure on the Guntown School campus, the kind of flexibility needed in undertaking a major capital investment.

The Lee County district’s voters in July approved by strong margins a $13.5 million bond issue under financially favorable conditions for major work at schools in Guntown, Saltillo, Mooreville, Plantersville and Shannon.

An information session Monday night at Saltillo Primary School drew only 25 people, a number not reflective of the heavy support given the bond issue. Superintendent Jimmy Weeks explained plans for six new classrooms at Saltillo Primary, 150 more spaces in the school cafeteria, 12 new classrooms at Saltillo High School, and room for an additional 200 to 240 students in the high school cafeteria.

Weeks said each community site for new construction was promised a preview of plans before construction, and Monday’s meeting fulfilled that commitment.

School district officials have been careful in explaining the process of adding and improving space in the district, where small-community growth has been impressive, including in unincorporated areas. Every thorough measure of education standards reflects the importance placed on adequacy of facilities in earning the confidence of prospective new residents and in holding longer-term residents with children in the district.

Studies released by the U.S. Department of Education indicate that adequate facilities have a positive impact on student scores and on teachers’ effectiveness.

“Good facilities appear to be an important precondition for student learning, provided that other conditions are present that support a strong academic program in the school. A growing body of research has linked student achievement and behavior to the physical building conditions and overcrowding,” DOE said in 2000. More than 20 scholarly studies have shown links to superior performance by teachers and students in good facilities.

The 21st Century School Fund found, in a summary of studies since 2000, identified “a significant relationship between building condition and test scores. Additionally, at least 75 percent of principals indicated that the adequacy of the school facility impacted teacher attitudes, teacher recruitment and retention, student behavior, and parent and community attitudes and support.”

The bond issue was passed with high expectations. The planning process is important in ensuring that school constituents’ expectations are met.