May 17, 2010 Rotogram

THE PEARL HIGH SCHOOL TRAGEDY

Dr. William Dodson, former superintendent and author of If I Had Only Known: A True Story, will discuss the 1997 shooting at Pearl High School.

WILDLIFE CONSERVATIONS

Black bear conservation in Mississippi will be next week’s topic for Brad Young of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.

LAST WEEK

Invocation and Pledge:   Brent Fountain

Attendance: There were 91 members (27 exempt) present and 99 (23 exempt, 12 honorary) absent.

Guests and visitors: Mike Vance was Stu Vance’s guest. Guests of the Club were Jim Martin, Shea Staskowski, Starkville Daily News, and RYE students Francesca Scaravelli and Kasper Eriksen.

Makeups: Larry Mullins made up at the Club Assembly.

Kudos: Terry Kemp was congratulated for the birth of his grandson.

      Bryce Griffis was honored by his alma mater with an honorary doctorate of science at Delta State’s Spring graduation.

      Our Boy Scout Troop 14 honored four new Eagles this month.

Boys State: President Martha presented our annual support check for Boys State to Jim Martin of the American Legion. We sponsor one Starkville representative every each year.

Starkville Youth Soccer: Rob Leach accepted the Club’s annual support donation for the Starkville Soccer Association’s youth programs..

In Memoriam: Verna Ramsey, sister of Allan Tucker, died on May 7. The daughter-in-law of our Club’s 1943-44 president had faithfully escorted him to meetings in his later years.

DISTRICT MEETING

As the newest Starkville Rotarian to attend the Districts 6820/6800 Joint Annual Conference, Charlie Guest was asked to give his impressions of the meeting for the Rotary Minute.

      Having attended many national and regional meetings, he said, “This was much like those. We had lots of speakers, some good, some not so good. But, the most important thing is the people you meet and the impressions you get.”

      Noting that he probably would not have gone had the meeting not been on a cruise, he said that, in the end, he may have gotten more out of it than the officer attendees who had been to many such conferences.

      What most struck him was the wide range of people other than Mississippians and Tennesseeans from the districts that met together. The keynote speaker was from Mexico. The international president’s representative was from Brazil. District 6800’s Korean Group Study Exchange Team and our Italian GSE Team were present.

      “What’s most impressive is to meet the people, and see the dedication, and find out that Rotary is not a run-of-the-mill civic club,” said Guest.

      President Martha added the note that the Club received the second annual Ruth and Keith Remy Youth Award and the Literacy Award.

TURNING AROUND THE STATE’S SCHOOLS

Out of Mississippi’s 152 school districts, 29 have one or more failing schools. Those districts are the target of Mississippi State University’s Turnaround Leadership Academy.

      Julie Jordan, director of operations for the Mississippi School Boards Association, explained the initiative led jointly by the MSU Colleges of Education and Business.

      With the MSBA since January, she formerly was project manager with the MSU Community Action Team.

      The Mississippi Children First Act of 2009 gave the association the task of training and supporting district school superintendents who have failing schools.

      The MSU project, begun last year, is modeled on the University of Virginia’s Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education. Drawing on business and education expertise, it is a two-year executive/CEO-type of leadership program in which a particular school principal or superintendent brings a management team for training.

      Under an Appalachian Regional Commission grant, the Mississippi program begins this summer. Oktibbeha and Kemper Counties are among the six teams in this year’s program.

      The MSBA already trains its 152 member school boards. All new board members are required by law to attend 12 hours orientation and to maintain six hours of continuing education per year.

      If a district is labeled “failing” for two years, the state’s Department of Education can take over its administration. Today, there are eight failing districts with four already in conservatorship.

      At the end of the initiative’s second year, students are taking assessments to determine school status. By July or August, the state will know whether more will be taken over.

      “Failing” is a state designation. Federal criteria for chronically underperforming schools are broader and applied to 52 Mississippi schools.

      “All the research across the country indicates that schools fail when leadership fails at the building, district or board level,” said Jordan, a veteran of ten years on the Columbus school board.

      Curing school administration failings is like turning around a failing business, hence the business /education partnership.

      Research shows a ten to 30 percent success rate in one year. That means long-term success requires ongoing support and technical assistance in a comprehensive effort. It takes more than one workshop.

      Jordan stressed that focus is not on schools that generally perform well and may have an off-year due to local situations. The chronically struggling ones are the targets.

      She cited as a key problem the fact that good principals get hired away to more stable schools.

      An oft-discussed solution to school performance is district consolidations, so Jordan briefly mentioned the Governor’s Commission on Mississippi Educational Structure.

      The core challenge is home-rule in which local boards have a lot of autonomy. No legislative mechanism exists to force school district consolidations. There are voting rights issues of combining elected and appointed boards. And, court-ordered desegregation has an effect.

      The only statutory way to require consolidation is if a district is in conservatorship. However, a non-failing district cannot be forced  to merge with one in conservatorship. The fact is the 123 districts with no failing schools are often adjacent to the failing districts.

      “The reality of consolidation will be more budget driven,” Jordan said. “We are facing a ‘funding cliff’ of $128 million of stimulus money that won’t be here in Fiscal Year 2012.”

      Most districts plan year-to-year, but  now are being encouraged to at least look at two-year timeframes.

      The more likely scenario is to merge services such as transportation, business offices, special education and alternative schools.

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