SP superintendent ready for challenges – Phillips says attendance will be early focus

Published 8:02 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The first day of school for South Panola School District students went “like the first day of school goes” Superintendent Del Phillips told the Batesville Rotary Club lunch meeting last Tuesday.

Phillips, who was South Panola High principal from 1995 to 2005 before leaving to work in other school districts across the Southeast, was hired earlier this year by the district trustees to replace the retiring Tim Wilder.

“It feels good to be home,” Phillips said. “I’m going to try to help everybody here get better so our students can achieve at a higher rate. It will be good for the students, schools, and good for the community.”

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The new superintendent said his administration’s goal is the safety of students every day at school and undertaking efforts to raise the district from an overall B to an A score. “Obviously the support we get from our school resource officers is a big, big help, because having their physical presence on campus is a huge deal. If someone does have bad intentions they know that they are there and that we have a responder very close.”

“We have schools that are A schools, but we want to get every school to that level, and we can do it,” he said. “I think this year the high school may change to have the highest score we’ve had in a long, long time.

“We’ve got some work to do at the junior high and at Pope School,” Phillips said. “They’ve been rated a B consistently for the past five or six years and we are hoping to move them up to an A.”

Phillips said enrollment trends are down, with about 4,300 students enrolled this year, compared to the 4,600 range a few years ago. “We are doing hard counts for the next two weeks and I think it will shake out about where we were last year.”

An area of improvement that will be a focus for the new administration is student attendance

“We have a truancy issue, kids don’t come to school, and that’s a problem,” Phillips said. “It’s not unique to South Panola, we had the same problem where I came from. Covid just kind of changed how people looked at having to be  somewhere.”

“We have met about that and we are going to work on that diligently,” he said. “But it’s going to take more than us just calling parents.”