NP Conservator

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2008

NP conservator adds junior high, sheriff’s deputies

By Billy Davis

Como Middle School has reorganized into a junior high school and elementary school as part of the state’s shake-up of the North Panola School District.

At the advice of the district conservator, school board members approved the naming of North Panola Junior High Monday evening.

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The junior high will serve seventh and eighth graders in a wing of the now-defunct Como Middle School, sharing space with a returning Como Elementary. Como Elementary was reorganized into Como Middle in recent years after poor test results became public.

The newest reorganization will pull seventh and eighth graders from elementary schools in Crenshaw and Sardis and relocate them to the Como campus.

“The seventh and eighth graders will not mix and mingle with the elementary school,” said Bob Strebeck, North Panola’s state-appointed conservator.

Strebeck announced this week that he named a Hazelhurst, Miss. native, Demond Ratliff, to lead the new junior high. Ratliff comes to North Panola from the Hinds County School District.

Within the Hinds school district, Ratliff said he taught at Level 5 Byram Middle School, which is about 60 percent minority. Before working there, he learned administrative duties at an inner-city school in Georgia that was 100 percent minority.

Ratliff, 34, said he had originally interviewed with Strebeck for an assistant principal’s position at North Panola High. The position at the new junior high school will be his first assignment as a lead administrator.

At Como Middle, students’ low-performing state test scores have sunk the school to the bottom of public schools in Mississippi. The test scores at Como and at North Panola High triggered the state takeover and current reorganization of the school district.

“I welcome the challenge. That’s what led me here,” said Ratliff, who left the U.S. Army as a staff sergeant to enter the education field.

In an interview at the district office, Strebeck said new hires across the school district have expressed similar sentiments after he advised them of North Panola’s struggle to improve its academics and public perception.

“What they’re telling me is they’re looking for a challenge and they’re accepting the challenge,” Strebeck said. “They wanted to be part of a great opportunity to learn how to be an effective principal and assistant principal.”

Other new hires within the school district include Como Elementary principal Ben Lundy, formerly an assistant principal in the Jefferson Davis School District, and North Panola High assistant principal Chris Harlow, who comes from the Madison County School District.

On the first day of school, Ratliff said he plans to introduce himself to boys and girls in separate assemblies. A revised district-wide student handbook is being prepared, and students will be told the rules for conduct and dress codes, and also learn the disciplinary action for breaking those rules.

“This handbook is my Bible, and it will be their Bible, too,” he said.

In a separate interview, Strebeck also said discipline and the school dress code will be stressed at the new junior high school.

Strebeck acknowledged that students’ discipline problems have long been a problem within the school district, and he promised that disciplinary action will be fair and by the book – literally – when the new handbook is completed in the next few weeks. 

Strebeck also announced that North Panola Junior High will employ a school resource officer (SRO) from the Panola County Sheriff’s Department. A second SRO will work at North Panola High School, he said.

The presence of SROs on school campuses is a standard sight at many public schools, including in the South Panola School District, but North Panola leaders in the past turned down offers from the Panola County Sheriff’s Department to place a certified sheriff’s deputy at North Panola High.

While turning down the SROs, the school district has instead relied on its school safety officers. Those officers will remain at Greenhill and Crenshaw elementary schools, but one slot has been eliminated and one reassigned at the high school and the former Como Middle, Strebeck said.

“We’ve been trying for a couple of years to get this done and now we’re happy to get it done,” said Panola Chief Deputy Otis Griffin.

The sheriff’s department already employs a deputy at Pope School, the chief deputy noted.

The first day for teachers at North Panola is July 30. Students return August 7.