OUR OPINION: Okolona schools set for rebuilding effort

By NEMS Daily Journal

The appointment on Sunday afternoon of a new superintendent of education for the Okolona Public School District makes, it is hoped, a major step toward sufficiency and achievement after a more than two-year conservatorship by the state Department of Education.
Conservatorship – takeover of a local district by the state Department of Education because of failure – can have several components, most visibly academic but also managerial and financial.
Trustees selected Dr. Jerry Woods, a longtime superintendent in Arkansas and Tennessee school districts. He holds a doctorate in curriculum from the University of Mississippi. Woods takes the reins in Okolona on April 1.
Woods’ appointment was made following a search process noteworthy for its even-handedness and the absence of attempts by factions within the school district to bend the selection to reflect goals narrower than restoring credibility and success.
Conservatorship is the state’s ultimate sanction of a school district, reflecting prolonged inadequacy and academic failure. The tentacles of such situations often involve poor financial and institutional management as well as the grades and achievements of students in the classroom.
Okolona citizens were understandably and visibly upset and angered when the conservatorship decision was made, but it was based on the actual criteria used for similar decisions in other districts, including Aberdeen, which remains in conservatorship.
Okolona’s school community extends far beyond the classrooms and campuses. The primary support source is the whole community, and the support requires hard assessment and evaluation and sometimes tough decisions. It is virtually meaningless to have control of a school district if it fails in its primary responsibility of adequately educating children. Decisions must be made for the whole school system, never for the interests of individuals or families who imagine they are in some way entitled to exceptions, employment and separate rules.
Okolona’s schools face greater pressures and expectations coming out of conservatorship than going in.
Woods is enthusiastic about identifying the parents, teachers, students and other members of the Okolona schools as a first priority. It’s important to forge the partnership on the front end of an administration and all board the bus together.
In a school system there’s no turning back. Past successes provide inspiration, but they cannot be a full program moving forward.
Some people who have influence over education would say further another failure should mean no schools in Okolona.
Success measured against a new and higher standard can deny that possibility.