Okolona conservator updates aldermen

OKOLONA – School conservator Dr. Mac Curlee said Okolona schools have improved but they still have room for improvement.

Speaking to the Okolona Board of Aldermen and Mayor on Dec. 11, Curlee said he is pleased with the direction is moving and glad to see the community appointing trustees to once again lead the district. Curlee made his remarks just prior to Aldermen naming a new Okolona School Board of Trustees.

“Of all the concerns the state listed when it took over the district in 2010, all have been answered in the affirmative,” said Curlee. “But by no means are we there. Much remains to be done.”

The Okolona Municipal School District was placed under state control in February 2010 due to academic and financial failures. At that point the school board superintendents’ post were vacated and Dr. Mike Vinson was installed as conservator.

The State Board of Education voted in June to allow Okolona schools out from under conservatorship. Vinson retired and the state appointed Curlee and Dr. James Malone to Smith to direct the schools until a school board was named and a superintendent hired.

The state Board of Education mandates 37 accreditation standards that school districts must meet. Those standards include such items as ensuring properly licensed personnel, providing student safety, publishing school board activities and meeting certain academic standards.

Okolona initially had 34 violations of the 37 specific standards used to rate a school district. Okolona had corrected all but two minor violations prior to Vinson’s departure.

Okolona saw all 42 seniors pass the Subject Area Testing Program 2 (SATP2) this spring, making them eligible for graduation.

The district also continues to see a high level of community involvement in schools.

“We have gotten a lot of training for instructional staff,” said Curlee. “At one time teachers were meeting on Saturday to improve professional learning standards.”

Curlee said the district also sees students being tested more often.

“We are testing and assessing those scores on a student-by-student basis,” said Curlee. “We are seeing good results at the high school.

“We set a goal of seeing Okolona school’s go from an F to a C by August 2113,” Curlee added. “We are optimistic that can happen, but our teachers know there is no clear sailing and all of this is not behind us.”

Curlee said he was most concerned with student attendance.

“If students are not in school they can’t be taught and they can’t learn what the state requires they know,” said Curlee. “And I am not just talking about high school kids. We have elementary school children – first, second and third graders – who already have 15 absences this year. That is not the child’s fault. That is the fault of parents and this community.”

Curlee said there are also facility concerns and how the district will make the three-story elementary school handicapped accessible. He said a stop-gap measure has been formed and will be implemented when students return to classes in January.

“I want to thank the city and our volunteers for helping me and Okolona schools,” said Curlee. “The new school board will continue to need the community’s help in moving these schools forward.”

Eight of the state’s 152 districts are currently in conservatorship. The Aberdeen School District was placed under state control in April. Oktibbeha County School went under state control in September.

State officials have repeatedly said should Okolona schools revert to conservatorship, the district will be abolished or split up and merged with other districts or consolidated with area districts.

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