Headlines – 8/11/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 11, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – August 11, 2006

  From the 8/11/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

Schools: first day busy but ‘smooth’
     The cavernous school mall at South Panola High School (above) is filled only with a lone person, assistant principal Leslie Busby, during classes Wednesday morning, the start of a new school year. At least 1,300 students were expected to fill the classrooms of the school.
By Billy Davis
and Jason Mattox

Panola County public schools welcomed about 6,500 students back to campus this week, signaling the end of summer freedom.

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About 4,700 students at South Panola and another 1,800 at North Panola are in classes this week, respective superintendents of those school districts reported.

Another 360 students started classes this week at North Delta School, a private school located west of Batesville, Headmaster Herman Coates said.

"We are down about 20 students from last year, but everyone is still looking forward to a great school year," Coates said. "Our first day went great, and we want to see that continue."

At Batesville Elementary School, Cecil and Tonya Creekmore delivered their children, Cameron and Jayla, to pre-kindergarten classes Wednesday.

"Today was kind of traumatic," reported the father with a grin, explaining that the back-to-school day began at 5 a.m. in a home with three children.

The first child to leave the Creekmore home Wednesday morning was Morrie, a South Panola High student, who hopped on a school bus at 6:30 as a sophomore.

To help ease Cameron and Jayla into new surroundings, the parents shared exciting stories about school and also attended a back-to-school night at BES Tuesday evening.

"The teachers were nice and helpful, and they really showed compassion toward the children, which is what we liked the most," said Tonya Creekmore.

Across town at South Panola High, the school year began Wednesday morning at 7:40 when 1,310 students reported to their first-period classes.

"Our goal was to have them all inside by 8:15 and we had them in by 8:05, so that was a good start to the school year," remarked South Panola High principal Dr. Gearl Loden.

In the first-period classes on the first day of school, teachers were reviewing the obligatory student handbook with students, making note of the high school’s dress code and a new three-minute time limit between classes, the principal said.

"The teachers are also working on community building – helping the students break the ice – since so many of them don’t know their new classmates," Loden said. "This is a big school."

South Panola’s senior class begins the school year with 229 students, Loden said, down from a record-year high of 264 students last year.

South Panola Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer said an accurate count of the school district’s enrollment won’t be known until Friday, but agreed that 4,700 students is a likely number.

"We started school last year with about 4,650 students and we expect to be over 4,700 this year," Shaffer told The Panolian.

South Panola enrollment numbers won’t be official until Friday since Batesville Junior High School welcomes its sixth graders Wednesday, and seventh and eighth graders Thursday, and begins with all three grades – about 1,000 students – Friday.

Kindergarten classes will begin Friday with full enrollment after girls attended Wednesday and boys were scheduled to start Thursday.

BES principal Carolyn Graham said the school "stole" the split kindergarten schedule, borrowing the idea from the Tupelo school district.

"The kindergarten teachers think it went much better," Shaffer said. "They’re really pleased."

In Batesville, no fender benders were reported Wednesday around school campuses despite the crush of back-to-school-traffic, said Tony Jones, deputy chief of the Batesville Police Department.

"Today went relatively smooth, a lot smoother than other years, and by next week it’ll be fine," Jones said.

"We had a very smooth first day of school," North Panola Superintendent Glendora Dugger said. "We have a slight increase in student population over last year, but our first day still ran very well."

Mother faces felony charge, accused of injuring infant son
By Jason C. Mattox

A Batesville woman facing a felony charge of child abuse is accused of injuring the infant by shaking him.

Rebecca Blackburn, 26, 799 Belmont Rd., faces a maximum 20 years in prison if convicted of the charge.

Blackburn, who is out of jail on bond, was charged after examination of her child showed injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome, said Det. George Williford of the Batesville Police Department.

"She took the child to the pediatrician complaining that the child was gurgling, wheezing and would not eat," Williford said. "The pediatrician sent the child to LeBonheur where further examination revealed the extent of the injuries."

Shaken baby syndrome is a type of inflicted traumatic brain injury that happens when a baby is violently shaken. A baby has weak neck muscles and a large, heavy head.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Web site, shaking makes the fragile brain bounce back and forth inside the skull and causes bruising, swelling, and bleeding, which can lead to permanent, severe brain damage or death.

Police search for missing girl
By David Howell

The Sardis Police Department continued its search Thursday for a 14-year-old girl missing since Saturday said Police Chief Mike Davis.

Ariel Copeland was last seen around 8 p.m. Saturday evening, August 5, at her grandparents’ where she lived at 311 East Lee.

Davis said the family reported Copeland missing "late Sunday evening."

"We have her listed on the NCIC as a missing juvenile runaway," Davis said. The Sardis Police Department issued a BOLO – "Be on lookout" – to area law enforcement agencies Sunday evening.

Davis said Wednesday morning that he did not believe the case was an abduction.

But her grandmother disagrees.

"I am thinking somebody got her," Rosemary Potts said Wednesday.

"She didn’t take any clothes," she added.

Both Davis and Potts said that this was not the first time Copeland had been missing, but Mrs. Potts said that she had never been missing this long.

"She always contacted us and let us know she was okay; before she had only been gone a number of hours," the grandmother said.

Davis said officers checked the area near her house following the missing person report Sunday.

"We have contacted every agency in this area," Davis said.

On Thursday, following the publication of Copeland’s photo in The Southern Reporter, a caller contacted Davis and said he had given the girl a ride to Leland, Davis said.

Officers pursued the Leland lead and were pursuing other leads at press time.

"We did not call for an Amber Alert," Davis said referring to the statewide plan that is used to spread the word of a missing person.

"The girl voluntarily left out of her house," he added.

Copeland is described as four foot, five or six inches with a medium build, according to Davis. She wears glasses, he noted.

"We believe she is still in this area," Davis said. The chief also said that he had traveled to Senatobia, Oxford, Batesville and Courtland tracking down leads.

Council asks county for tutoring space
By Billy Davis

The Panola County Literacy Council has been resurrected and is searching for space in Batesville to house a part-time director and tutoring space.

Literacy council chairman Barbara Evans approached county supervisors this week with the request, saying Northwest Community College will pay for the part-time worker as well as tutoring materials if space can be found.

If the county agrees to the request, the literacy council would install and pay for a phone and solicit donations for office furniture and supplies.

Evans said the council is looking for "pretty permanent" space that will accommodate the tutoring sessions as well as storage of the materials. Supervisors took the request under advisement.

Evans, who is head librarian at the Batesville Public Library, told supervisors a library is a poor choice for tutoring because it can be intimidating to adults who are learning to read.

Literacy statistics show 37 percent of Panola Countians ages 16 and up are functionally illiterate, Evans told supervisors, citing a report.

Evans noted the illiteracy rate in a formal letter that also requested a rent-free space "for the next three to five years," time that would allow the program to get on its feet again.

Rev. Sam Godfrey of Como, who serves on the 10-member council, told The Panolian he considers the tutoring program an extension of his Episcopal ministry.

"Part of the ministry is about improving people’s lives and what they can do for themselves, and helping meet the literacy needs in the county is part of that," said Godfrey, who oversees congregations in Como and Batesville.

In a letter sent in May to Board President Robert Avant, the chairman said the council is already receiving requests from adults.

"We have had requests for individual tutoring from adults (who are) using the local Parent Center in Batesville," Evans wrote, "as those people are not yet able to read proficiently enough to enroll in the Adult Basic Education classes at the Center."



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