New board members state their position on policyBy PAT BROWN,
Accountability seems to be the standard for the new board of the Simpson County School District which met for the first time on January 10.
Three of the five seats were filled with new members who appear committed to change for the better for the board and the district. The seats which were filled in the November General Election were for districts 2, 3 and 4.
Danny Cowart, former head football coach at Magee High School, is serving for District 2. Longtime public school advocate and community activist Patrice Boykin is serving for District 3. Retired business executive Stan Bulger is serving for District 4. These positions correspond to supervisor’s districts in the county.
The first sign that change is on the horizon was after the meeting opened when Bulger addressed the crowd under the board comment agenda item of the meeting. He stressed the importance of starting to work on improving the school district’s “D” rating.
He said, “This is really simple if you establish goals and priorities and have open communication between the key stake holders.” He went on to identify the “key stake holders” as the school administration, staff, students and parents.
Bulger said that it is important to establish benchmarks and milestones along the way so that goals are easily defined “and you can realize once you accomplish objectives.”
Bulger was clear to state that one of his goals is to get a consolidated high school for Simpson County. He added that the board is tasked with managing resources economically. They and the administration are responsible for providing accountability for jobs and performance and it is important to lead by example, he said.
New board member Danny Cowart spent years in public education with his most recent stint being athletic director and head coach for Magee High School, where he led the Trojans to a state championship. Cowart now operates his own company, Brandi’s Hope, and has some specific directions he would like the district to take.
He stated that the mission should be finding out what the “Best Practices for school districts are and implementing those.” He advocated looking outside the existing program and finding out what works “rather than re-inventing the wheel.” He said they need to work toward seeing that the children in the district get the best they can and that everyone needs to work together as a team to accomplish these goals.
He cited a book he read entitled Good to Great. He stated that good is the enemy of great. “Why settle for good when your goal should be great?” he asked.
Some really good things are already going on in the district. One of the most notable is the P-16 Commission that is working with schools that have earned less than a “C” standard in the State Department of Education rating system. The district currently has a D rating, but some individual schools have already shown good improvement. Magee Elementary, for example, has nearly an “A” rating after having been near the bottom of ratings for a time. Simpson Central continues to maintain a “B” rating.
Schools that have below a C rating are required to report monthly to the board as to their efforts to improve scores and other shortcomings. Magee Middle School’s new principal, Tracye Pierre, as well as Mendenhall Jr. High School’s new principal, Sydney Magee, were all but applauded by the board for their presentations and plans for improvement. Principal Magee presented information showing that Mendenhall students were already performing better in subject area testing. Magee High is set for improvement also.
One of the most important items presented concerned dealing with the shortage of qualified teachers by issuing teaching contracts earlier in the year so that the good teachers won’t already have been contracted by the time the district finalizes contracts in the summer.
The board is considering changing their meeting time from 6 p.m. to 3 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month. It was after 9 p.m. before last Thursday’s meeting adjourned. Superintendent Greg Paes said it is difficult for employees to meet that late and be expected to get to work as early as they need to operate schools the next day.
In other business the board disagreed over officers of the board for the upcoming year. Stacey Herring of District 5 was nominated to serve as president of the board for her third term and cast the deciding vote for herself in a tie breaker between herself and District 1 board member Lillie Hardy.
Hardy told the board that the process allowed for the position to be rotated. Board attorney Wesla Leech stated that the provision could not be found in the board policy manual. A motion was made to table the issue until the matter could be settled. However, it was revisited prior to the end of the meeting, and the board voted with Herring for her to serve another term. Hardy was elected vice president and Patrice Boykin was elected secretary.
The board approved travel to the state school board convention to be held in Jackson. They also approved participation in the National School Board meeting in Philadelphia, Penn. Hardy said she wanted to attend, and Patrice Boykin said she had been asked to do so. It was not stated who else would attend the event.
Other travel was approved for Deia Sanders and Stephanie Hubbard to attend workshops in Orlando, Fla.; Shelia Carney, Shirley Griffith and Wanda Raddle to attend a speech and hearing conference in Biloxi; Monroe Allen, Jeffery Crosby, Cyril Fisher and Derrick Jenkins to attend a Gulf Coast coaching clinic.
After some back and forth over the appropriate lease amount, the board approved a cell phone tower lease with American Tower Lease Company. The initial lease included a $40,000 lump sum payment, then $500 a month lease with a 7 percent increase every five years.
Bulger questioned whether this was enough. Tom McAlpin, who handles leases for the district, said he had figured it out and it was over $1,000 per month with the down payment.
The deal was an extension of an existing contract. The company planned to do renovation work on the tower. McAlpin cautioned that delaying approval or changing the rate might cause the company to consider leasing elsewhere. Bulger said that was not the issue and that he had personal knowledge of what cell tower leases should bring.
Leech told the board she had conferred with the Secretary of State’s Office and they confirmed it was a very good deal that was being negotiated. The board decided to honor the contract.