September 6, 2017 11:19:58 AM
Three Mississippi State University employees vying for a spot on the Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Board of Trustees appeared for interviews before the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday.
Aldermen expect to fill the open seat on Sept. 19 to finish the unexpired term of Anne Stricklin, who left the school board in June. That term ends in 2019.
Sumner Davis, head of the MSU Extension Center for Government and Communication Development; Lisa Long, a research associate in the Social Science Research Center; and Debra Prince, an associate professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Foundations, have all applied for the post.
Davis, a former Starkville Alderman, previously applied for an opening on the school board in 2015, when Stricklin was appointed.
Through his expertise in public budgeting and finance, Davis said, he could offer knowledge to help the SOCSD continue on their current growth trajectory.
To do that, he continued, is by budgeting- especially after recent decreases in state funding.
"We need to make sure that we have the appropriate planning in place, fiscally and with our facilities, so that we do not find ourselves in a bad spot," Davis said. "Budgets will always be the No. 1 issue at hand because it is what drives everything else surrounding our service."
Aside from budgeting, Long said the next step to insure success is by increasing parent-involvement and celebrating the diversity in SOCSD.
The students attending schools in the district, Long said, have a unique opportunity where they can learn about their classmates, some who even have parents from different countries who work at MSU.
"I would like to help our community be aware of how fortunate we are to have such a diverse school district," Long said confidently. "Recent research even shows that children who are around others in a classroom that are different from themselves gain better critical thinking skills, and (they) report less bullying than children who attend schools in a district that is predominantly one race."
In addition to acknowledging classroom diversity, Long said another essential task is to provide personalized education for all students, including those with behavioral issues and disabilities.
Prince, a third-time applicant for the SOCSD Board of Trustees, said a rising concern in the district is the achievement gap between African-American students and Caucasian students, as well as one between economically disadvantaged students and students who are not.
This issue, she said, is one she noticed even when she was a student in the district.
"In language arts, SOCSD is the third worst district in the state, out of 144 districts, in terms of the achievement gap between African-American and White students scoring proficient or above on state tests," Prince said. "With other minorities in the district, there is a flip, and those minorities are outscoring white students, making the achievement gap in Math the fourth worst in the state."
Prince said she knew the school board listed closing the achievement gap as a top priority, which is why she believes she would be an asset to the board if appointed.
"Despite everything the school district is in charge of doing, the No. 1 priority is educating children, and if we aren't doing that, then we aren't doing our job," Prince said. "I see the potential our district has, and Starkville, Mississippi, has too many resources for SOCSD to remain an average school district."
Proposed alcohol changes
In other business, aldermen held the first of two public hearings on proposed changes to loosen the city's ordinance on alcohol sales.
The changes would decrease the distance in which alcohol can be sold from churches, schools and funeral homes from 250 feet to 100 feet, allow restaurants and bars to sell alcohol until 1 a.m., and allow businesses to sell beer with 8-percent alcohol content.
Aldermen can vote on the changes on Sept. 19, following the second hearing.
Starkville residents Marnita Henderson and Jerry Jefferson requested the board respect the churches, specifically, by not bringing alcohol sales closer to holy grounds.
"We need to leave the church sacred," Jefferson said. "I can understand selling alcohol later, but I can't understand bring it closer to churches. I don't see the need of why we should even consider it coming closer to the house of the Lord."
Rosa Dalomba, owner of Poporium on Main Street, and Starkville Main Street Association President Michelle Jones both supported the changes, saying they would increase foot traffic to the downtown area sales at local businesses.
When Jones moved to Starkville in 1998, she said the night life was "non-existent." Now, the city has a vibrant downtown area and tourism based largely on culinary efforts, she added.
"Our houses of worship are very important, and the way they fit into our landscape is evidence of that," Jones said. "However, we cannot allow them to control the redevelopment of our entire downtown area. We aren't talking about placing restaurants right next door to churches, we're just asking to decrease the distance to meet the rest of the state so that we can have the opportunity to improve our economic standing."
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