OUR OPINION: All Lee schools need to be strong

By NEMS Daily Journal

Lee County’s school system is really two systems within one. Schools in the north end of the county are top performers, while in the south they are at or near failing.
There are, of course, great differences in the students the two portions of the district serve. Saltillo, Mooreville and Guntown schools are all heavily white and predominantly middle class, while to the south minorities are in the majority and students from low-income households are much more predominant.
The dichotomy of high- and low-performing schools within the Lee County district offers vivid evidence of the racial and economic achievement gaps that trouble most school districts in Northeast Mississippi, the state as a whole and, in fact, the nation. We simply haven’t figured out, under the current system, how to lift up those students who begin with the greatest disadvantages and therefore need the benefits of education the most.
One thing is certain: For low-performing schools to succeed, parents and the wider community must be involved. Tuesday night’s community meeting in Verona called to consider the state of schools there and in Shannon and Plantersville was a start.
First, it involved a candid acknowledgment of the “crisis” those schools face, as Verona Elementary School Principal Temeka Shannon described the situation. While unquestionably there are good things happening in pockets at these schools, the overall level of student academic performance is unacceptable, and publicly stating that reality is the first step toward improvement.
Second, the good attendance – about 150 parents, as well as school officials – suggested there is a core of concerned and committed people willing to step up and help. Schools bear responsibility for educating children, and they must be held accountable, but without parental and community involvement and support the task is much more difficult.
Lee County as a whole needs to be as concerned about its underperforming schools as it is proud of its high performers. The parents and residents of south Lee County deserve to know what the plan is to bring those schools out of the doldrums and the children in them to a higher level of academic capability. Only when all schools are performing at an acceptable level will the children and the communities of Lee County be fully served.