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Governor approves takeover of Oktibbeha schools

 

Carmen K. Sisson

 

It's official: The Oktibbeha County School District has been placed under conservatorship, joining eight other school districts in the state now controlled by the Mississippi Department of Education.  

 

Gov. Phil Bryant Friday approved the Mississippi Board of Education's request to declare a state of emergency within the district due to a history of poor student performance and accreditation issues including poor or inaccurate record-keeping and data compilation, an inadequate curriculum, school maintenance and safety concerns, non-compliance with state open meetings laws and allowing non-eligible students to graduate. 

 

District Superintendent James Covington has been replaced by an interim conservator, Jayne Sargent, who will operate the district temporarily until a full-time conservator takes over. The Clarion-Ledger reports Sargent will receive $46,750, plus a $12,000 travel stipend, for the time of her contract, which begins Oct. 1 and ends Dec. 14.  

 

The school board has also been disbanded.  

 

"I have reviewed the findings by the Mississippi Department of Education and agree the current leadership in the Oktibbeha County School District is jeopardizing the learning environment," Bryant said in a press statement Friday. "This pattern cannot continue. The students and communities in that district deserve better." 

 

The district was found violating 29 of 30 required accreditation standards, with one of the largest violations being a pattern of poor academic performance on state accountability tests.  

 

The district was listed on academic watch and received a "D" rating on the state's "report cards," which were released earlier this month. This is the first year the state has used the letter-system grading scale, which replaced the previous seven-tiered accountability scale. Last year, Oktibbeha County was listed as low-performing, the equivalent of an "F" on the new grading scale. Both East and West Oktibbeha High Schools received failing grades.  

 

"The academic needs of the students have not been met," Chairman of the State Board of Education Dr. Wayne Gann stated in an MDE press release Thursday. "East Oktibbeha County High School has been classified as failing for the last three years with a QDI of less than 100 over that time period. In addition, the leadership of the district has failed to resolve lingering accreditation issues." 

 

MDE will hold a public meeting Monday night at East Oktibbeha High School to discuss questions, concerns and a corrective action plan with faculty, staff, parents, students and members of the community. The meeting is tentatively slated for 6 p.m., though that time could be pushed back to 6:30 p.m., MDE Communications Director Patrice Guilfoyle said Friday morning.

 

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.

 

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