By STEVEN NALLEY
County school board members approved Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ decision to reject its lease on the Oktibbeha County Lake campgrounds at their meeting Monday after hearing a series of reports from officials on progress and needs at the district’s four schools.
At Superintendent James Covington’s request, the board also voted unanimously to authorize Oktibbeha County School District lawyer Bennie Jones to send MDWFP a letter giving officials time to remove any improvements they have made to the campgrounds during their tenure there. One of the board members suggested a 30-day time frame, but board chair Curtis Snell said more time would be needed. Jones then made another suggestion.
“I think it might be appropriate for the board to allow Mr. Covington and I to do whatever’s necessary to facilitate the transition (of the property between MDWFP and OCSD),” Jones said.
The board approved Jones’ suggestion unanimously. The discussion of the county lake campgrounds came after several OCSD reports, the first of which came from retiring assistant superintendent Jerome Smith.
“About 14 years ago, I did my inaugural report. With some regret, tonight I do my farewell,” Smith said. “It is now time I enter a new phase in my life, but I will always hold you dear in my heart.”
Smith said the district developed schoolwide action plans to address weaknesses discovered from last year’s Mississippi Curriculum Test. The district also provided improvement opportunities for teachers, he said, bringing in some of the best trainers from around the state. The result, he said, is higher QDI scores on practice tests for the MCT2.
“These are the highest end-of-year practice test results I’ve seen since I’ve been in the school district,” Smith said.
Another report came from Candace Cooper, who discussed the schools’ special education and gifted programs. The district currently has 13.64 percent of its students enrolled in special education programs, Cooper said. While this percentage is above the state average of about 10 percent, she said it is lower than eight years ago, when it was almost 24 percent.
“Next school year, (there is) a projected need for another special education teacher at West (Oktibbeha) Elementary,” Cooper said. “Right now, the lady there has 17 (special education students); the law will only allow you to have 18.”
Principals from each school also gave presentations, largely reporting strong progress on their students’ readiness for the MCT2, which students will take this week. They also had the opportunity to report on their schools’ needs. For instance, East Oktibbeha Elementary School Principal Yolanda Magee said she would like to hire a school nurse to help growing numbers of students who have chronic seizures.
“We have several in our primary school and three in (grades 4-6),” Magee said. “Some of them, once the students were enrolled, (we already) knew the students were prone to having seizures. (One student’s seizures) just started happening this year. They don’t know the cause of it yet, but they are continually testing. Anything could trigger it at this point.”