NP Conservator

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Glenn Swan was appointed conservator over the North Panola School District last week after the departure of Bob Strebeck. Photo courtesy of The Hattiesburg American

New conservator on ground at North Panola

By Billy Davis

A new conservator set foot on North Panola’s school grounds last Friday, becoming the second state-appointed official to seek to improve the struggling school district in two years.  

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Glenn Swan began his new post as conservator the same day the Mississippi Department of Education announced his appointment.

“I’ve been in all the buildings, and I’m impressed by what I’ve seen. People are working hard,” Swan told The Panolian Monday morning.

Swan comes to North Panola from the Jefferson Davis County School District, where he oversaw a state takeover prompted when district officials misspent 16th Section funds.

Swan faces a different scenario at North Panola, where students’ test scores have failed to meet minimum standards set by the Miss. Department of Education. The school district is under probation by the state, and overseen by a conservator, until the test scores show improvement.

State officials, after investigating the district, have accused its leaders of mismanagement and poor leadership.

Swan formerly served as principal and superintendent in Lamar County, where schools there were designated Exemplary and Superior-Performing, according to the Department of Education.

Lamar County is located in south Mississippi and includes municipalities Purvis and Oak Grove.

The Miss. Department of Education was fielding complaints of mismanagement at North Panola from parents, and from faculty and staff, when investigators descended on the school district in early 2007.

The investigation by the Office of Accreditation found the district had failed to meet 33 of 37 accreditation standards, standard requirements that are followed by public school districts across the state.

The school district kept its accreditation, despite the glaring problems, but was downgraded to an “Advised” status by the state. District leadership was then given 60 days to correct the problems.

Unhappy with the lack of progress, the Department of Education further downgraded the school district to “Probation” status in September 2007, triggering a possible state takeover.

“I think we’re very close to moving to conservatorship if something doesn’t happen very quickly,” then-state Education Superintendent Hank Bounds said in January 2008.

The state Board of Education formally recommended a state takeover in April 2008. Gov. Haley Barbour, in the same month, approved the recommendation and declared a state of emergency at North Panola.

Swan replaces Bob Strebeck, who was named conservator in April 2008 and who also came to North Panola from the Jeff Davis district, where he was conservator.   

Strebeck announced this month he was stepping down March 25.

Strebeck’s departure coincided with complaints aired against him at a February public forum organized by the state Department of Education. Complaints from school board members and the public did not prompt him to step down, he told The Panolian.

“I see a tremendous improvement,” Strebeck said of the district. “The infrastructure that is in the district now was non-existent two years ago. We had to start at the bottom.”

The announcement of Swan’s appointment included news that Howard Sanders will serve as community liaison for the North Panola School District.

Sanders has served as superintendent of the Hollandale School District and as conservator for the North Bolivar School District.

Sanders’ appointment alongside Swan is the first time the state Department of Education has used the “dual leadership approach,” said a department spokesman.