January 4, 2014 10:10:40 PM
After serving on the Lowndes County School District board for more than a decade, Jacqueline Gray continues to be an advocate for the students of West Lowndes.
In its November meeting, the board voted to implement a master plan that would close the West Lowndes Middle School, which serves 88 students.
The plan calls for sixth graders to move into the elementary school and the seventh and eighth graders to move into the high school. Gray was the only board member to vote against the plan.
Instead, Gray wanted a new middle school constructed on the West Lowndes elementary school campus.
She made a motion for that at a Dec. 26 school board meeting. The motion died for lack of a second.
"It's not like we're asking for something so unique, just for a place to adequately educate the children," Gray said.
Low enrollment should not be a deterrent, she said.
"The children need to be educated," she said. "They should be educated in a facility that suits them in where they are. If it makes sense, let's do it."
Gray's proposed project would cost the district $11 million. In addition to building a new middle school, her plan includes adding classrooms to the elementary and the high school, new computer labs, new restrooms and a new parking lot.
With a majority of the West Lowndes children eligible for free or reduced lunch, Gray said it costs more money to educate children who live in poverty.
"They're already behind," she said. "It takes double the amount of money to educate them because you've got to get them up. It's not about a dollar figure. I don't equate that number to the children. I equate the children to what their needs are."
West Lowndes Elementary is currently rated a "B" district by the Mississippi Department of Education. West Lowndes Middle School is rated a "D."
Gray said building a new middle school across the street from the elementary could help improve the mindset, and therefore the scores, of students.
"High performing is what we demand," she said. "We're not saying that this is going to be an overnight transition, but anybody who moves from an old house to a new house, you just feel good about things."
She continued, "Middle school is a hard transition, the preteen years, it's just a whole different thing. You've got to feed the minds in the classroom but you've got to the make the children feel comfortable where they are. If we could build a middle school on that campus so they can transition from a high performing elementary to just right across the road, although you're not in the same building, it does give you a sense of pride of 'I'm moving up.'"
The parents in the West Lowndes district are "disappointed" their version of the master plan didn't pass, Gray said, but she added they are resilient and will continue to fight for their children.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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