Monday, July 05, 2010

Some Updates On Cleveland,MS, Schools Situation

The Bolivar Commercial

Board Sides With Superintendent
Staff Writer
Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010
By a 4-1 vote, the Cleveland School District Board of Trustees upheld the recommendation of the superintendent not to renew the contract for D.M. Smith Middle School principal Jimmie Washington.
Trustees Maurice Lucas, Richard Boggs, George Evans and Todd Fuller all voted not to renew Washington’s contract for the 2010-2011 school year.

Board President Harvey Jackson was the only member of the board that voted not to uphold the recommendation of Superintendent Jackie Thigpen.
Washington’s attorney Willie Griffin said Washington at this time has not made any future plans as to whether or not he would pursue the case further.
Griffin and Washington are waiting for written statements from the board on their reasons for their votes.
“This is one of the worst verdicts in the world,” said Griffin. “I am very disappointed.”
Griffin said he expects to receive the verdict in writing within the next 10 days.
“They did not give us a reason (Tuesday),” he said. “They just told us what the vote was.”
During a special call board meeting Tuesday, Griffin gave the board members his closing remarks.

“There are times as lawyers that you get a case that really tries a lawyer’s soul,” said Griffin. “There are cases that make it difficult to continue your practice in this business. This is one of those cases.
“This is a case that deals with someone’s livelihood,” he continued. “It is up to you — the members of this board — to make sure justice is served. It is imperative that you see to it that justice is served.
“The contest of nonrenewals for employees’ contracts is nothing new to this board,” said Griffin. 
“Nonrenewals serve options and one of those options is to weed out staff of bad apples or of those who are not performing. It’s easier to nonrenew a contract than to terminate someone’s employment.

“This case is one that tries me because I don’t think the evidence is there to nonrenew this principal,” he said. “Mr. Washington is a product of this community. He’s been a principal at D.M. Smith for three years. “D.M. Smith is peculiar in that it has always had problems with academics,” said Griffin. “Not saying that there has been any improvements in education at D.M. Smith.
“There was testimony (during the public hearing) from (Lena) Tatum that teachers had a very challenging job,” he said. “They had students in seventh grade adding on their fingers and that can’t count by 5s.
“These are basic deficiencies in math,” said Griffin. “These kids are lacking basic math skills, the basic understanding or the ability to add without using their fingers. That’s the reality at D.M. Smith.”
Griffin said Thigpen met with Washington and gave him an improvement plan that he was to implement due to D.M. Smith’s performance of the Mississippi Department of Education state test.
D.M. Smith’s accountability label was at risk of failing, QDI was 104 and D.M. Smith did not meet growth.
“Certainly implementing an improvement plan was in order,” said Griffin. “In the improvement plan she (Thigpen) identified what she deemed to be concerns and indicated her expectations among other things.”
Griffin said that once Washington signed the improvement plan, he and Thigpen were to meet in January to revisit the plan.
“No meeting took place,” he said. “There is no documentation that a meeting ever took place. An informal meeting may have taken place but Mr. Washington said no.
“On Feb. 16 he was given an interesting evaluation,” said Griffin. “An evaluation totally and completely different from his prior evaluations. Then less than two weeks later, he received a letter of nonrenewal. He was notified that she was weeding him out.
“From what I’ve seen. Mr. Washington works hard,” he said. “He comes in to work early and leaves late. He’s a fine principal.”
Griffin said one of the sole reasons given by Thigpen for the nonrenewal of Washington’s contract was a failure to continue improvement at D.M. Smith.
“He was given many objectives and goals that can not be determined if he’s reached them or not without the results of the state testing scores,” he said. “In his letter of nonrenewal from Mrs. (Jamie) Jacks, he was given things that were not a part of his improvement plan as grounds for nonrenewal.
“I read through the transcript very carefully as I hope and ask that you read through the allegation carefully,” said Griffin. “First, I’d like to start off with the allegation of Mr. Washington’s alleged violation of the ticket policy.
“There is no documentation that corroborates that there was a problem with ticket sales,” he said. “Mr. Washington has documents that account for all ticket sales.
“In (the superintendent’s) testimony, she admitted that she had no personal knowledge that there was a violation in ticket sales,” said Griffin. “They did not bring anyone else to testify that there was a violation. Yet it has been used as a grounds to nonrenew.
“Another was D.M. Smith failed to meet AYP (annual yearly progress) in math for the 2009-2010 school year,” said Griffin. “How can you rely on that as a means for nonrenewal when you don’t have the scores back yet. The scores had not been return to the district. That is not proper grounds for nonrenewal.

“It may be grounds for next year but it is not grounds for nonrenewal for this year,” he said. “I read over the superintendent’s testimony very carefully and she admitted that there was a lot of turnover at D.M. Smith in math that affected the school’s achievement.
“D.M. Smith had the lowest QDI in the district and it was expected for Mr. Washington to bring his school’s scores up,” said Griffin. “You gotta give it a chance though. You gotta go through the testing cycle but before (the superintendent) even saw the results, he was nonrenewed.
“You do not have data yet stating there was no change in AYP,” he said. “You have not received scores for the 2009-2010 tests and AYP was one of the concerns expressed but you don’t have the results yet.
“In fact, I have documentation that I would like to present to you that proves D.M. Smith had excellent math scores,” he said.
Jacks objected to Griffin presenting the board with those scores. She said that Thigpen had advised her that those scores were still embargoed.
According to Mississippi Department of Education Communications Director Pete Smith, “Administrators and principals have access to a secure site where they can access raw data on state testing scores. Those scores are not official but it can give them an idea of where they maybe ranked.
“The official scores will not be released until September or October,” said Smith.
 Griffin addressed other matters to the board and expressed his reasons as to why none of the citations present justified nonrenewal of his client’s contract.
“This is a very difficult case,” he said. “Everything except the kitchen sink has been thrown at my client.
“You got to allow the improvement plan to run its course,” said Griffin. “The superintendent has relied on pure hearsay to norenew Mr. Washington’s contract.”
Griffin related that in Washington’s closing statement he said, “I have enjoyed his employment at D.M. Smith. I did my best at all times. I know there is room for improvement but I don’t feel like I was given enough time to improve.
“Give me the opportunity to improve,” he said. “I agreed with some of the things in my improvement plan but I don’t feel like I was given enough time to improve. I want to make corrections. I care about the kids and I have the kids interest at heart.
“I felt like I was ambush,” said Washington. “There are pictures of 10 different principals on that wall in my office. There’s been too much turnover at D.M. Smith. I’ve been there three years even research says it take three to five year to see major improvements.
“Unfortunately, people panic and want things to go a lot faster,” he said. “We’ve had some improvements. We’ve had high attendance rates. Our kids are coming to school.

“Our discipline rates are down,” said Washington. “Those things make a difference but it all takes time. It’s not going to happen over night.”

Copyright © 2010 The Bolivar Commercial, a division of Cleveland Newspapers, Inc. All rights reserved.



Cleveland Inches Closer To Being Excel By 5 Community

Staff Writer
Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010
Cleveland’s Excel by 5 town hall meeting only attracted a few members of the community due to Monday’s weather.
However the meeting served a great purpose.
Cleveland’s Ward I Alderman Maurice Smith welcomed the small crowd of parents, community members and other stakeholders to the meeting.
“This program offers the opportunity to lay a foundation for the children in our community from ages zero to five,” said Smith.
Cleveland School District Superintendent Jackie Thigpen said although the completion of the Excel by 5 project has taken some time to reach its final stages, she is happy and willing to help in any way she can to make sure the initiative is carried out.
“This has been a long process for Cleveland,” said Patsy Clerk, certification manager for Excel by 5. “We’re knocking at the door of certification now and we’re all excited.”
Cleveland has only a few more steps to go before the community can be labeled as an Excel by 5 community.
“We have to conduct the townhall meeting and then the next step will be the interviews conducted with our childcare agencies and Head Starts,” said Clerk.
“Excel by 5 is an innovative early childhood community certification process focusing on a community’s young children,” said Lillie Clark, Excel by 5 coalition member. “It emphasizes the important roles parents and early childhood educators play in the lives of children during their most formative years — birth to age five.
“It is our mission to give every child a chance to live up to his or her potential,” said Clark. “This not only makes a positive difference in children’s lives, it makes a positive difference in the future of communities. Our goal is for children in Excel by 5 communities to be healthier and better prepared for kindergarten and beyond.
“Excel by 5 candidate communities accept the challenge to become certified Excel by 5 ‘child friendly’ communities,” she said. “This means they support parents and children by connecting them with the available resources and services they need to lead healthy and strong lives.
“Whether you’re a parent, a neighbor, a local business person or a caring community member, you can become an Excel by 5 community partner,” said Clark.
“There are four focus areas for Excel by 5, community involvement, family and parent support, early care and education and health,” said Mechelle Wallace, Excel by 5 sites coordinator. “Keep up the good work. It takes more than just one person.
“The certification process is a little lengthy and it has taken Cleveland a little bit longer than other communities but that’s OK,” said Wallace. “Cleveland will be the first Delta community to be labeled as an Excel by 5 community.
“I advise you all to take an active look at how you can be involved,” she said. “I was at a conference and one of the speakers quoted Fredrick Douglas.
“The quote was, ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men’,” said Wallace. “Starting at age zero and working our way back up takes the whole community. It takes more than two or three people.”
Wallace said even if individuals in the community do not have small children ages zero to five, they should still take a vested interest in those children’s education and development. Every child’s future reflects the world.
“I have visited some of these communities that have received their Excel by 5 certification and those communities have a different look,” she said. “I am very proud that Cleveland is near its certification completion.”
During the meeting, the group collected questions written on note cards presented to them by the audience. The questions varied from questions about race, education, parental involvement to recreational activities for children in the area. The audience also presented the group with things they considered as community strengths.
Coalition member Kelvin Williams said, “Parental involvement is one our biggest things we’ve been trying to tackle. It appears that when children reach a certain age we seem to lose parental support.
“When the kids are in grades Pre K, K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th, we have that support,” said Williams. “It’s when they get a little older is where the parental involvement seems to lack.”

Smith commented on how to continue the process of being actively involved with the progress children make.
Smith said, “It seems that there’s not a strategic plan in place. When the children get older we let up.
“You don’t have to have a lot of new money,” he said. “There are projects in place that calls for the same kind of things we’re talking about now. There needs to be some awareness to what the needs are.”
Smith also addressed the question on racism dividing the community.

“I’ve seen it from two perspectives,” he said. “Until the powers that be sit at the table and address the issue, we won’t get anywhere.

“It’s hard to attract businesses and new industry with this dual system in place,” said Smith. “We don’t want to force anything on anyone but it comes a time when we have to stop looking at the brick and mortar.
“One other thing is there’s very little activity where ducks get a chance to mingle with each other,” he said. “It’s time to change. The question is how can we bring about that change without running people off.”
Some of the strengths were that the Cleveland community has programs like Excel by 5, a visible school superintendent, qualified childcare providers, a park commission program, Delta State University and much more.

Another strength noted was that all parents regardless of race, gender or age love their children.
For more information about Excel by 5 or how to become involved contact Clerk at 662-719-0625 or by e-mail at

Copyright © 2010 The Bolivar Commercial, a division of Cleveland Newspapers, Inc. All rights reserved. 


See also...
W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio:Dismantling Segregation In Education: Cleveland, MS Schools In Crisis Update:

School Boycott In Cleveland, MS....

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