By STEVEN NALLEY
Editor’s Note: The following is the second in a two-part series on the Oktibbeha County School District’s progress under Jayne Sargent’s conservatorship. This second part focuses on the work ahead for the OCSD and Sargent’s successor. The first part focused on the work Sargent has done in her three-month tenure and can be found in Saturday’s edition.
When Jayne Sargent came to the Oktibbeha County School District as conservator, many raised questions about what the state’s takeover of the OCSD would mean for faculty and staff job security.
In response, Sargent said she was holding off on terminations for both legal and practical reasons, wishing to avoid disrupting OCSD classes. As a result, she said her successor as conservator, Margie Pulley, will be in control of terminations at the end of the academic year.
“I have made some evaluations, no question, but I’ve waited for Dr. Pulley to make hers. As far as I’m concerned, we can be in constant communication, and I can give a report to the state department about the things I’ve done here. For me to say all the teachers are doing an adequate job would not be fair,” Sargent said. “I dare say some changes may result. I’m not speaking for her, but I know if I had been the person who was going to be here until spring of the year, when we’d make those decisions, I would certainly take that into consideration.”
Sargent says the OCSD’s biggest changes are ahead, and to guide her successor and the OCSD staff through these changes, she has been working on a corrective action plan that will outlive her recently expired tenure as conservator.
The plan assigns responsibility for compliance with each of the accreditation standards the OCSD failed to meet in its 2012 state evaluation to specific employees, sets of employees, consultants or the conservator. While many of the plan’s objectives are ongoing, several have specific deadlines in 2013, including re-evaluation of salary schedules, a review and update of school board policies, hiring a media specialist and ensuring that individuals teaching out of field do not exceed 5 percent, all with deadlines in June.
Sargent said she is responsible for writing about two thirds of the plan, with the rest to be completed by OCSD staff. She said some objectives on the plan are already complete, and others are ongoing, such as abiding by the Open Meetings Act and including a “public comment” item on meeting agendas. She said the OCSD did not necessarily fail every accreditation standard the corrective action plan will address.
“Every area, whether it was evaluated or not, (even) if all we had to say was ‘not evaluated’ or ‘in compliance,’ we still need to include it in the corrective action plan, because that’s our target,” Sargent said. “It’s no question that a major part of the schools’ accreditation being pulled is directly related to low test scores, even though ... the two elementary schools have performed well with test scores. Dr. Pulley is a very strong person in academics. She’s going to expect that teachers do a good job teaching and that higher-order skills should be a big part of that.”
One significant academic change Sargent said is coming for the spring semester is information and communication technology (ICT) coursework for grades seven and eight. New computer labs for both East Oktibbeha County High School and West Oktibbeha County High School are already on order to facilitate this coursework, she said.
“We have teachers who are prepared to teach it,” Sargent said. “The eighth grade program starts the students (on) making decisions about future careers.”
Finally, Sargent said Mississippi State University has also expressed interest in assisting with OCSD chemistry programs, through professional development, tutoring, and teacher placement if new teachers are needed in the future.
As for the OCSD’s more distant future, Sargent briefly weighed in on the idea of the OCSD and the Starkville School District consolidating. Not only would such a process be complicated, she said, but the decision would not be cut and dry, even if consolidation showed clear benefits.
“It sounds like sometimes it may be the best thing for a community, but it may not be the best thing for your heart,” Sargent said. “It’s always a tough decision, because people have so many emotional ties to the school district they’re in. I’d be hesitant to say (consolidation is) the ultimate answer.”
Sargent may not be seeing the OCSD’s recovery of accreditation through to its end, but she said she believes that end will come soon.
“I would hope by this time next year, they ought to be looking toward ending this thing if they possibly can,” Sargent said, “and I think they can.”