Panolian Editorial

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 26, 2010

North Panola is test of conservator concept itself

We will be awaiting with interest the test scores for the MCT2 test results when they are published next year. Especially for schools in the North Panola District.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tom Burnham acknowledged during last Monday night’s public meeting community concern about a decline in district test scores from 2008 to 2009.

Burnham cautioned that assumptions made from comparing the 2008 and 2009 test scores were not fair comparisons because the test has changed. Comparing the 2009 test scores to the 2010 test scores will be more like comparing apples to apples.

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Another comparison — if it existed — that we would view with interest would be an evaluation of the state’s system of conservatorship itself — the system which mandates state takeover of a poorly performing district. After a conservatorship period ends, have the elected school board members and appointed districts administrators been given an adequate opportunity to learn how to steer clear of the problems that led to the state takeover in the first place?

Dr. Burnham, appointed state superintendent in late 2009, was apparently unaware until Monday night’s meeting that the North Panola School District Board of Trustees had been meeting with little regularity during many months of the current conservatorship. Scheduled meetings have been cancelled at late notice by the conservator or not scheduled at all.

Granted, the conservator has the authority to override  anything the board does and the district is not required to hold school board meetings if he decides not to, but if the goal is for the district to remain successful on its own without the conservator, it appears that by cancelling the meetings, the conservator is shutting the door on an opportunity to involve a vital component of the district’s future success.

Board chair Rosa Wilson voiced to Burnham her concern over the lack of communication between the conservator and trustees and the conservator and the community. Wilson also questioned Burnham about the board’s role under the conservator.

While Burnham’s response — which included, “If the board had been doing what the board should have been doing, we wouldn’t be here tonight” — though correct, was ill-timed and smacked of arrogance. The remark would have been more appropriate for the beginning of the conservatorship, before the trustees had been so effectively shut out of school operations.

The success of the students in a school system ultimately rests on the shoulders of the students themselves and school parents and patrons, but that is more easily accomplished in some school districts than it is in others. In the North Panola district, it has been problematic. That is what has brought us to this conservatorship.

But now that we’re here and paying a conservator a generous salary to correct the deficiencies, leave no stone unturned and no resource untapped not just to correct deficiencies but to give parents and community leaders their best chance of not repeating mistakes after the converatorship period has ended and the conservator has gone home.

That will be the test for the state Department of Education’s system of conservatorship. If the district can successfully reach the required benchmarks for academic and fiscal performance after the conservator has left, the system passes with a thumbs up.