Headlines – 7/22/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 22, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – July 22, 2005

  From the 7/22/05 issue of The Panolian :             

New principal looks to raise level at South Panola High School
     South Panola High School Principal Dr. Gearl Loden (center) was hired in June as the school’s top leader. His leadership team includes (left to right) Vocational Director Billy Smith, Activities Director Kaye Smythe, Assistant Principal Ruth Ball, and Assistant Principal Leslie Busby.


By Billy Davis

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When the new school year kicks off August 10 in the South Panola School District, more than 1,200 students are expected at South Panola High School.
That’s 1,200 cases of peer pressure, hormones, possible family problems, life questions, and life-altering decisions. Somewhere in the midst of those teenagers’ lives, they’re expected to earn a diploma and graduate.

The students’ best advocate for success could be their new principal, Dr. Gearl Loden, who plans to improve academics through better attention to students’ struggles and challenges.

Loden, 36, was hired by the district to boost the school’s academics, which would eventually nudge the Level 3 high school to at least a Level 4 status.

Using students’ test scores, the state Department of Education ranks the public schools from a Level 1 "low performing" school to Level 5, which is "superior performing."

In South Panola, only Pope Elementary has climbed to Level 5.

South Panola High is one of three schools in the district at Level 3, which is deemed "successful" by state standards. The other schools are Batesville Junior High and Batesville Middle.

Batesville Intermediate is a Level 4 "exemplary" school.

Batesville Elementary School’s K-1 grades aren’t included in state testing, but the school is considered a Level 4 since it’s a "feeder school" for the intermediate school, said Superintendent Keith Shaffer.

Loden comes to Batesville after teaching social studies in Kosciusko and psychology in Tupelo, and serving as assistant principal in the Oxford public schools and principal in the Houston public schools.
Loden was a human resources director for the Meridian school system when he and his family, wife Monica and son Trey, made the move to Panola County.

Loden was a finalist for the superintendent’s position that was eventually won by Shaffer, who later recommended Loden for the principal’s position.

At the high school, Loden’s leadership team includes assistant principals Ruth Ball and Leslie Busby, vocational director Billy Smith, and activities director Kaye Smythe.

Loden said the step-by-step plan to improve students’ test scores will begin with a personal touch: let the students know they matter.

"It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest student or a student who’s struggling," Loden said. "The point of an education is to encourage you to do the very best you can."

The high school is helping struggling students, for example, who failed state tests last spring. Those students recently received letters announcing remedial classes July 25-29 for algebra and U.S. history, and August 2-5 classes for English and biology.

On the other end of the achievement scale, Loden said, the high school will dangle the goal of a National Merit Finalist in front of high-achieving students.

"It’s been years since we’ve had a Finalist, and it’s past time that we did," Loden said.

For students who want a challenge, SPHS already offers six college-level advanced placement (AP) courses in English literature, English composition, Spanish, U.S. history, U.S. government, and calculus.

Loden said the "core group" of any high school is the "regular old Joe," a student with mediocre grades whose progress is overlooked by teachers more concerned with failing students.

"Those are sometimes the hardest ones to reach, but we know they’re there and we’re going to reach out and help them," Loden said.

To better reach out to students, Loden said, the school administration is building a "family support" structure of counselors and teachers who will closely monitor students’ classroom grades and school attendance.

"This is a pro-active stance of quickly reacting to sudden changes in the students’ performance," Loden said.

Echoing Loden’s philosophy, Shaffer said Loden’s mission is to count every student as important.

"Dr. Loden and I feel the same way about education: we want to provide each student the opportunity for educational excellence," Shaffer said.

South Panola High offers 120 subject areas, known as Carnegie units. A student needs a minimum of 24 units to graduate, said Smythe.

The high school offered 114 Carnegie units during the 2003-2004 school year, state records show, the 29th highest among high schools in the state.

The high school’s graduation rate was 85 percent last year, two points above the state average and the same as its neighbor, North Panola.

State records show 44 SP students dropped out in recent years between their 9th grade and 12th grade year.

In addition to academic courses, the high school offers a vocational program with nine two-year courses: allied health, business and computer technology, auto trades, child care, horticulture, building trades, food production, cooperative education and metal trades.

Loden said he will help change the perception that a high school student should choose between trade courses and college-prep academic courses.

Regardless of a student’s plans for a job or career, each South Panola graduate should be prepared for college classes, the new principal said.

"When teachers talk to their students, I want them to say ‘when you got to college’ not ‘if you go college,’" Loden said. "If the teachers keep saying it enough times, the students will eventually start believing it.

"With today’s global society, young people have to be competitive now more than ever," Loden said. "It doesn’t matter if you’re a plumber or a painter – you need some college courses to compete and stay ahead."

Road repairs hinge on new set of quotes
By Jason C. Mattox

Roads were a popular topic during the Tuesday meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, as city leaders discussed the future of three roads.

Assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell told Mayor Jerry Autrey and the Board of Aldermen that the Neal family, the owners of the road connecting Eureka Road and Highway 51 near Dunlap and Kyle, are considering donating their portion to the city in order to keep it open.

City leaders have said at past meetings that if they had to purchase the road, they would close it.

Glenn McKittrick, representing Dunlap and Kyle, said the company would be willing to donate a reasonable amount of property if needed to bring the road up to city standards.

"It might be time for the city to have the engineering work done so we know what it will take to get the road ready to be a public road," Mitchell said.

Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton said he wanted the city to hold off on the engineering until the property is donated to the city.

"I don’t want to see us do all the work and them decide they don’t want to give us the road," he said.

In addition to that road, the board received quotes to repair damage on Thermos Road and at the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Van Voris Street.

"Thermos Road has been in bad shape for a few years now," Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley said. "It needs to be one of the first roads we get done."

The board voted unanimously to get more quotes for the two roads because one bid amount was questioned.

"One of the bids is considerably lower than the other," Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley said. "I think we need to make sure that wasn’t a misprint."

Mitchell said by going out for new quotes the city would be within its legal rights to handle the repair and patching of the two roads.

"You would be well within your legal rights as long as the bid isn’t more than $10,000," he said.


     Barbara Broome (right) was among the first to purchase season football tickets at South Panola High School this week. SPHS bookkeeper Jamie Hubbard helps Mrs. Boome locate her seats on a chart in the school office. Season tickets are $45 and include admission to six games.
     The first game is Thursday, August 25 at 7 p.m. when the Tigers take on Clarksdale. Those who previously held season tickets have until July 29 to reserve the same seats. On August 1 any unsold season tickets will go on sale to the general public.
Mayor’s salary raised to $40K
By Jason C. Mattox

Two weeks after more than 50 concerned citizens packed the board room in Batesville’s City Hall to voice their concerns about the salary of Mayor Jerry Autrey, their issue with several city leaders was resolved as his salary was raised to $40,000 annually.

One of the first matters addressed by the board of aldermen at the second meeting of the new administration was once again Autrey’s salary, which was set at $19,500 at the final meeting of the old administration.

"We all understand why you are here and realize what your complaint is," Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders said to the full room of citizens. "We are hoping we can resolve this issue and that you will all continue to show an interest in your city government."

Pounders then motioned to reset the mayor’s salary to $40,000.

"I hope the citizens will support this and find that this board is committed to working with the new mayor," she said. 

Autrey told The Panolian that he is happy to have the matter resolved.

"I feel like they were trying to do whatever they could to make things right," he said. "With this out of the way, the mayor and board can work together for what is in the best interest of the city."

Pounders, who had been adamant about no salary increase until the city entered its budget process, said the reason she changed her mind was because the city had adopted its amended budget.

"We finished with the amended budget, and we all decided to go ahead and raise the mayor’s salary," she said.

Pounders echoed the mayor’s sentiments about strengthening the relationship between the mayor and the board.

"There needs to be unity with the mayor and board," she said. "It seems like the salary was a big issue that could prevent that.

"Now that we have unanimously voted to increase his rate of pay, I hope it shows that each and every member of the board of aldermen wants to work with the new mayor," Pounders added. "All of us understand that this is going to be a give and take relationship.

"With this matter out of the way, now we can all come together and work for a common goal of making the City of Batesville a better place."

Square overlay should begin in next few weeks
By Jason C. Mattox

Overlaying of Batesville’s Downtown Square will become a reality when work begins in a few weeks.

Mayor Jerry Autrey and the board of aldermen learned of the start date during a meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Warner McBride of McBride Engineering Company told city leaders that crews would be ready to begin work on the project in about three weeks.

Board members expressed concern that the project would begin about time the school year begins. The square experiences congestion at the beginning and end of the school day.

McBride indicated that the contractor would need to work around the school congestion.

The cost to the city will be approximately $167,000 and the project will be handled by Lehman-Roberts, the lone bidder when bids were received in April.

Joe Welch and Jamie Sullivan of Lehman-Roberts were present to explain just what would happen with the Square.

Welch said the original bid for the project was over $230,000.

"We worked with Joe and took some things out of the original plans in order to get the bid down to this level," McBride said.

Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders asked Welch to remind the board what changes were made to the project.

"If you remember, the original bid included milling and overlaying the parking areas," he said. "When we started looking at it, we took out the parking areas and that resulted in most of the savings."

In addition to the overlaying of the square, city crews will work to remedy a drainage problem.

"By having the city workers handle that part of it, you are also saving money," Welch said.

Welch said he expected the project to be a tough job.

"While I do know that some of this is going to be difficult, I do understand that it will greatly improve the appearance of the Downtown Square," he said. "That doesn’t mean that there won’t still be problems, but it will be better.

"If you are thinking it will look like a new downtown, it won’t," Welch added. "But it will make it look a lot better.

"We are going to come in here and do the best job we possibly can," he continued. "We want the city to be happy with the job when we are finished."

City’s ‘little church’ building under scrutiny of aldermen
By Jason C. Mattox

The old Episcopal Church now owned by the City of Batesville became a hot topic of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of the mayor and board of aldermen.

The old church is located at the corner of Lester Street and Panola Avenue.

Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders told other board members that Dr. Andy Garrott and Rev. William Lewis had requested permission to use the building twice a month for an outreach ministry.

Neither Garrott nor Lewis was present at the meeting.

"They are simply asking if they can use the building for the ministry twice a month," Pounders said.
Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton said the city only allows occasional use of the building by different organizations.

"The policy since the building was deeded to the city was that anyone could use it occasionally, but not on a regular basis," Yelton said. "It seems to me that we already have one church in there regularly and this would make two."

According to Assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell, the property was deeded to the city on April 13, 1970. The deed contained provisions that would allow the Episcopal Church to use the building occasionally for services and meeting as long as they did not interfere with the city’s use of the building.

The building, which once housed the Batesville Public Library, has been used by civic clubs and as a polling place in the past, but recently has only been used by the Episcopal Church.

"I think we have even allowed other churches to use the building when they were having one built or if they had problems with theirs," Mitchell said. "But it has always been occasional use."

Yelton said one of the reasons he is against allowing one group to use the building on a regular basis is the city’s paying of utilities.

"We have been paying the utilities on this building," he said. "The other churches pay their own utility bills, and I don’t think we should provide utilities to this church."

Yelton said the board might want to look at setting a fee that would cover the utility costs.

"It might be time for the city to revisit the policy that governs the use of the building," Mitchell said.

Pounders said it is not widely known that the building can be used by anyone.

"We need to get it out to the people that anyone out there can use the building for meetings or weddings or whatever," she said. "Right now people don’t think they can use it because the church is using it."

"I don’t have any problem with a church using the building," Yelton said. "I just think we need to make sure it is only being used occasionally so other people get their chance to use the building too."



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