November 26, 2011 10:20:00 PM
The departure of Dr. Del Phillips prompted me to think about the obstacles waiting for the next superintendent. First, he or she must overcome the shadow of Dr. Phillips, a man who left with high approval ratings and a state of the art middle school as a monument to his success.
The person will also enter an environment with rising expectations. In an effort to improve the quality of education, Mississippi recently adopted "Common Core" standards that require schools to teach and test based on national guidelines and metrics. This is intended to ensure math and language arts are taught on the same level across the country but is expected to increase the pressure on Mississippi schools to raise test scores.
Then, there are the problems that have plagued the district for years, like the high school drop-out rate and teen pregnancy; problems even Dr. Phillips wasn't able to solve.
Interestingly, these obstacles remind me of the classic film "Lean on Me." In it, Joe Clark, played by Mississippi's own Morgan Freeman, is chosen to be the principal of a high school facing a state takeover. The school is a parent's worse nightmare: The halls are painted with graffiti; the bathroom stalls are full of drug use and teenage sex; and the students regularly curse and challenge teachers.
To change this, Mr. Clark decides the school must get rid of all the bad apples. So, he has the teachers make a list of the students with serious disciplinary records and holds a general assembly where he has all the troublemakers placed on the stage and expels them. No questions asked. He warns the remaining students that they will face the same consequence if they don't improve their attitude and behavior.
In the following scene, several parents angrily confront Mr. Clark about the mass expulsion. One accuses him of selling out the community and claims the students simply needed encouragement and more resources. Mr. Clark, in response, refuses to back down. Instead, he claims he promised God he would do whatever it took to save the school. And, since getting rid of the hopeless students was necessary to transform the rest, he has no apologies about doing it.
Though the problems in our district certainly don't compare to the school in "Lean on Me," our next superintendent must have that same tenacity and courage. Like Mr. Clark, he or she must be willing to do whatever it takes to improve our schools and raise our test scores; willing to make tough choices even when they disappoint or displease, and willing to make clear the buck stops with him or her. Blaming parents and accepting the status quo must be unacceptable.
A column about the next superintendent wouldn't be complete without mentioning the interim one, Dr. Martha Liddell. Since her appointment, Dr. Liddell has made clear she's auditioning for the permanent job. She's rolled out new programs to decrease the drop-out rate, collaborated with church leaders to offer summer programs and spoke at community events.
During this time, Dr. Liddell has shown she has the ideas and enthusiasm to lead. She's smart about the important issues and personable enough to influence and persuade. My only remaining questions are whether she can stand up to the politics and petty distractions; whether she can avoid the human temptation to avoid responsibility; and whether she can make tough decisions and stand by them. If she can, if she can keep a Joe-Clark-like focus on the future of our students, she will not only have earned the superintendent's job, she will have changed the lives of our students and shaped their future.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.
patriciaestes commented at 11/27/2011 12:20:00 AM:
Online courses allow us to serve students who live too far away to attend face-to-face courses. For instance High Speed Universities offer courses all over us and can get degree in months even while working.
bravesfan commented at 11/27/2011 11:12:00 AM:
online degrees are seen more and more as being less credible. The whole online degree format and process needs to be overhauled. They just don't carry any weight when competeing with people who attained degrees from credible universities.
walter commented at 11/29/2011 7:50:00 PM:
Achieving anything remotely close to the national standards in education in Mississippi is going to be next to impossible, as long as the individuals in Jackson charged with allocating funds for education are unable to see that the education of the state's young people is the number one priority. If the state is going to rise, state legislators simply must do a better job providing for the state's young, across the board: more money for education; fewer draconian laws that felonize them for life for petty infractions; more structures after school activities; and, an attitude that says we beleive in the basic decency of our young and that we understand that they, like ourselves once were, are young and that they will make mistakes. Bush, Jr., made mistakes and he was elected President. He was allowed to pass because for him it was: "youthful, indescretion."
Isn't it about high-time more of our youths be given the benefit of doubt and their mistakes also chatrged to youthful indescretion, instead of limiting them to a permanent status of second-class citizens, again, because of petty offenses? Who ever is selected Superintendant will only be marginally successful until there has been a radical change in the mindset of those who run the state, in terms of the haste in which they're willing to lock'em up and throwing awy the key.
I sugget that the city look at one, the former, Ms. Christine Petty, originally of Columbus, who, is married now and I think resides in Jackson with her husband. She would be an ideal leader for the school system in Columbus or, perhaps, Goldie, whorecetly relocated in Columbus.
walter commented at 11/29/2011 7:53:00 PM:
WHO RECENLY RELOCATED IN THE CITY...
Some typos cannot be allowed to go un-corrected.
1. Ask Rufus: Columbus in 1822 LOCAL COLUMNS
2. Our View: A call for help is not an admission of failure DISPATCH EDITORIALS
4. Marc Dion: Coat and tie required NATIONAL COLUMNS
5. Voice of the people: Robert Smith LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (VOICE@CDISPATCH.COM)