Headlines Cont. – 7/22/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 22, 2005

The Panolian: INSIDE STORIES – July 22, 2005


North Panola School District begins year with six goals
By Billy Davis

The North Panola School District is beginning its school year with an ambitious goal: a five-year plan to pull three of its schools to a Level 3 status.

North Panola Superintendent Robert Massey said school administrators hashed out the "strategic plan" at a two-day retreat in June.

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The six stated goals are: recruiting and retaining school personnel, improving financial activities, communicating better with students’ parents, improving students’ academic achievement, aligning the district curriculum, and increasing student and faculty safety.

The North Panola School Board voted without comment to adopt the plan at its Monday night, July 18 meeting at North Panola High School.

"This is the first time for North Panola to have a ?strategic plan,’" Massey told The Panolian following the school board meeting.

North Panola begins the year with one high-performing Level 4 school, Greenhill Elementary, among its five schools. Elsewhere in the district, Como Elementary, Como Middle and North Panola High are Level 2.

Crenshaw Elementary is already at Level 3.

North Panola will begin its second "improvement year" this fall, a mandate from the state Department of Education for public school districts with low-performing schools.

State legislation passed in recent years established the school accreditation levels, which are determined mostly by students’ test scores.

The numbers are known as the Annual Accountability Designation (AAD), which ranges from Level 1 (low performing) to Level 5 (superior performing).

Levels 2, 3 and 4 are under-performing, successful and exemplary, respectively.

The North Panola School District, which emerged from a state takeover in recent years, has long endured a reputation for low test scores from its students and high faculty turnover.

The school district is 97 percent black, state figures show, and 81 percent of its students qualify for free lunches, an indicator of poverty-level family incomes.

The per-pupil expenditure at North Panola is $7,303, about $509 above the state average and $838 more than its neighbor to the south, South Panola.

Massey will start his third year as North Panola superintendent in August. His superintendent’s salary is $90,000 a year.

At the Monday school board meeting, the six goals were presented with specific objectives listed for each, such as addressing school safety by reducing student suspensions by 10 percent.

Asked Wednesday morning about the lack of specific plans presented to the school board, Massey later provided a listing of strategies for achieving each of the six stated goals.

The list of strategies was omitted from the Monday night PowerPoint presentation because of time constraints, he said.

Massey cited the hiring of "strong" principals at two Level 2 schools, Como Elementary and Como Middle, as an example of North Panola’s commitment to student achievement.

At Como Elementary, North Panola hired George Knox, a former principal and past bureau director for the education department’s Office of School Enhancement. He also founded a parent-teacher organization, The Justice Organization.

At Como Middle, James Flowers will serve as principal after performing those duties at Level 5 schools in the North Pontotoc school system.

At the school board meeting, Knox said the faculty at Como Elementary will work together with the theme "one team, one dream."

More than 10 Como Elementary faculty members were present at the school board meeting and were recognized by Knox and the school board.

Como Elementary jumped from Level 1 during the 2002-2003 school year to Level 2 in the 2003-2004 school year, state Department of Education records show.

State records also show Como Middle is in the middle of a Restructuring Plan after undergoing state-mandated Corrective Action during the 2002-2003 school year.

Greenhill Elementary, North Panola High and Crenshaw Elementary were all Level 3 schools during the 2002-2003 school year, state records show.

Greenhill has since jumped to a Level 4, North Panola High dropped to a Level 2 and is in an Improvement Year, and Crenshaw Elementary has maintained a Level 3.

With the Como schools welcoming new administrators, the high school is still without a principal and assistant principal despite the start of school in three weeks on August 8.

North Panola High School Principal John Sullivan and Assistant Principal Kelvin Griffin have taken jobs elsewhere, two of six faculty members to recently do so according to the school board’s July 18 agenda. Nine faculty hirings, meanwhile, were approved at the school board meeting.

Sullivan, who was NPHS principal for five years, has accepted the principal’s job at Shaw High School.

Reached by The Panolian, Sullivan said North Panola is a good school district with bright, motivated students.

"In spite of what people say, North Panola’s got a lot of good students and a lot of potential," Sullivan said. "What it needs is for (the students) to stay focused on academics."

Sullivan worked hard at instilling discipline at the high school but faced opposition from Massey and the school board, said a former NPHS teacher, who will start a teaching job in a new school district this fall.

"Discipline is the number one problem at the high school, and it frustrated a lot of people at the lack of support from Mr. Massey and the school board," said the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous.
Asked to respond to the teacher’s words, Sullivan downplayed the discipline problem at the high school.

"School discipline was not a great problem as far as hindering learning," Sullivan said.

Asked about discipline within the school district, Massey said Sullivan and other administrators were "backed up 100 percent" by the school board and him.

Davis begins job as top cop in Sardis Police Department
By Jason C. Mattox

The job of Sardis’ top cop went to a hometown boy when the Board of Aldermen selected Sonny Stepp’s replacement.

Mike Davis was selected to replace Stepp following two successful interviews with his new employers.

"Everyone on the board was in agreement that Mike was the best man for the job," Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said.

While Davis has been out of law enforcement for over two years, he does have an extensive background including time spent as DARE and K-9 officer for the Batesville Police Department and as arson investigator with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department. This is his first job as Chief of Police.

Davis has been on the job in Sardis since Monday, and indicated he does have plans to improve the department.

"The hardest part about it all is learning the administrative duties," he said.

"But I feel like with the help of Sonny Stepp, the police department can have a smooth transition in leadership."

Some of those improvements include better community policing, neighborhood watch programs and a citizens police academy.

"I want this to be a very professional department," Davis said. "But I also want it to be a department people feel like they can talk with.

"One of my biggest goals is for some to look at the department down the road and see that the department is not a group of individuals, but a large family."

Davis said he knows the people of the city want to see changes to the department, and he said they are coming, but was unable to give an exact timeline.

"When a person comes into a job like this, it is one that will take some time," he said.

"I hope the people of Sardis understand that this is not going to happen over night.

"We want to improve the relationship with the community," Davis added. "The city has a good group of officers that really cares about the people it protects.

"It is my hope that these officers will have a chance to excel with proper leadership and training into a chief’s position of their own someday," he added.

Davis said one of the main reasons he expressed interest in the chief’s job was the changes he can see on the horizon for the entire town.

"I really feel like there is a good board in place," he said.

"They all seem to be working towards a common goal. With that, it will be only a matter of time before Sardis starts to grow."

As for his part of the improvements and growth, Davis said the police department will work hard to reduce crime and provide the citizens with safe streets.

"The way I look at it is like this," he said. "If my child can play in the front yard or sit on the porch and not be worried about anything, then every child and parent in every neighborhood should have the same luxury."

Batesville board learns status of animal shelter
By Jason C. Mattox

The City of Batesville has a temporary home for the animal shelter, but they continue to look for other options.

Police Chief Gerald Legge reminded the board of aldermen Tuesday that the contract on the current location will expire in less than a year.

"We are approximately 10 months away from the deal we have expiring," he said. "I really think we need to continue trying to find a long-term solution."

Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton said a committee comprised of city and county leaders along with representatives of the Panola County Humane Society have an idea of where they would like the new home to be.

"I think we have the room on the grounds of the old armory to build a new shelter," Yelton told The Panolian. "The county seems to be supportive of the idea, so all we would have to do is put up a building."

As for paying for the building, Yelton said the humane society has received some grant funds.

"I feel like the county is more than willing to assist us in getting a permanent shelter," he added.

No action was taken on the matter.

In other board business:
Legge gave the aldermen an update on the Panola County Narcotics Task Force, saying they were presently working to develop a more realistic budget.
Aldermen set clean up hearings on several properties throughout the city.
Shamica McCray was given a 90-day extension to tear down a home and clean-off the property. City leaders also instructed McCray to keep the property mowed while demolition takes place.
Pay increases were approved for David Hickey and Lance Fennel. Both are employed at the Batesville Civic Center.
Warner McBride of McBride Engineering updated the board on the cleaning of the Ralph Keating property near the civic center.



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