Thursday, February 18, 2010

School Boycott In Cleveland, MS....

The Bolivar Commercial

February 18, 2010    


Segregated Schools and Voting Rights related articles recently in Cleveland, Mississippi newspaper.
For additional information contact
Margaret Block at (662) 846-5479.

School Prez Responds To Parents

Candrese Jones
Staff Writer
Tuesday, Feb 09, 2010

Parents and community members of children attending schools on the east side of town demand answers from the Cleveland School District Board of Trustees and superintendent.

Several parents and community members met Monday night at Saint Peter’s Rock M.B. Church in

Cleveland to discuss issues facing the community.

School Board President Harvey Jackson was in attendance.

The group asked various questions of Jackson, including why the school board made the decision to merge schools.

“The conditions of Nailor and what (the Department of Justice) referred to at East Side as ‘a swamp’ or the water drainage problem over there are some of the things we were looking at,” said Jackson.

“If we closed Nailor, we have to do something with the children attending that school.”

In January during a special call meeting, board members announced their unanimous vote to make several facility changes in the district for the quickly approaching school year.

The old wing at H.M. Nailor Elementary will be closed. However, the renovated wing at Nailor will house grades Pre-K through first.

Children in grades second through sixth attending Nailor will be reassigned to the Cypress Park Elementary school zone. Approximately 187 students will be moved from Nailor in grades second through sixth.

The building, known as D.M. Smith Middle School, will become a part of Cypress and Cypress will be renamed as D.M. Smith Elementary School.

“The open concept at D.M. (Smith Middle School) is also a problem,” Jackson said. “I’ve been opposed to that from the beginning. I think the open concept deal affects student academics. If we were to put up walls in D.M. Smith, I would not have a problem with that in terms of academic performance.

“The last visit I had there I was very surprised that they still had two by four petitions up,” he said.

“We are trying to get children into contained classrooms as they have at Margaret Green.”

During the 2010-2011 school term, middle school students attending D.M. Smith will be housed on the campus of East Side High School and students attending Margaret Green Junior High will be housed on the campus of Cleveland High School.

The building currently known as Margaret Green Junior High will be utilized as a part of the campus of Cleveland High School.

Jackson said, “We also have to understand that at the rate D.M. Smith was going, it was going to close itself. At one time, we had about 300 students over there. Now we have 180-190 students.

“We’ve had students go from Cypress Park to Margaret Green,” he said. “We’ve also had students leave Nailor to go to Parks. Our numbers are constantly dwindling.

“The only thing I can attribute it to is the open concept,” said Jackson.

Jackson was also asked why the district knowingly placed low performing schools together.

Based on recent state tests, D.M. Smith Middle School was labeled as at risk of failing with a QDI of 104 and the school did not meet the growth requirement.

East Side High School was labeled as academic watch with a QDI of 116, HSCI of 196.9 and a graduation rate of 79.6 percent. The school did not meet the growth requirement.

“That was not an issue from the board’s perspective,” said Jackson. “All schools on the east were low performing in the past except for Cypress Park.

“My push is to try and strengthen this lower system,” he said. “If we strengthen our schools on an elementary level, we can improve our test scores. This is the only way.

“We have to give them what they need so that they can perform at that higher level,” said Jackson.

One of the school board’s answes to the problem of increasing academic performance among Pre-K and elementary age children was to add an additional Magnet School.

School board members also voted that Bell Elementary in Boyle would become a Magnet School for math, science, health and wellness. Children attending Bell will be reassigned to the remaining elementaries within the district — Pearman, Parks and Cypress.

Residents said they are planning several community meetings andl actions to fight against the school board’s decision.

On Monday, the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce will host a public forum at 6 p.m. at the Bolivar County Expo Annex in Cleveland.

The Cleveland School District Board of Trustees will be in attendanfe and will attempt to explain recent changes and answer questions from the public.

However, questions from the public must be submitted in writing and signed, must have complete address and must have contact phone number.

The deadline to submit questions is 5 p.m. Thursday to the chamber of commerce at 600 Third St.
Several parents and community members urged the public not to attend the meeting.
Instead, they are asking parents not to send their children to school on Feb. 16.

The public is asked to meet at East Side High School at 3 p.m. on Feb. 16 and march from East Side to the Cleveland School District Central Office for the rescheduled board meeting that will be held at 6 p.m.
Parents and community members are also encouraged to contact Jonathan Fischbach, the attorney for the Department of Justice, to voice concerns at or at 202-305-3753.

Chamber Hosts School Forum

Candrese Jones
Staff Writer
Wednesday, Feb 10, 2010

In response to the Cleveland School District’s recent decision concerning the merging of students, the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce will host a public forum at 6 p.m. Monday at the Bolivar County Expo Annex in Cleveland where board members will explain recent changes and answer questions from the public.

“The chamber is in business to support the quality of life in the county including the educational system,” said Executive Director Judson Thigpen. “We have always been involved in the school system.

“We have the Adopt a School Program,” said Thigpen. “We’ve been involved in a college career day, we’ve organized most recently an ACT prep class and we’ve worked with schools in anyway they’ve asked.

“We’ve also worked with community colleges with workforce training,” he said. “And we have the chamber’s Scholars Program.

“We’ve had an education committee for as long as I can remember so it was fitting that we got involved,” Thigpen said.

“When the news broke (about the school board’s decision to merge schools and other changes), we were having one of our education committee meetings,” he said. “There seemed to be a lot of questions and it had seemed that there had been questions as to community involvement in the decision.

“We thought we would put together a public forum,” said Thigpen. “We used to host forums in the past for political officials, elected officials and others. The public was able to come in and ask questions.

“This whole idea came about through our education committee,” he continued. “We went through channels and we contacted Dr. (Jackie) Thigpen and they have been cooperative.

“We contacted her on Thursday and met with her Monday,” said Thigpen. “They came up with the date and time. To my understanding, all board members are expected to participate including the superintendent as far as I know.”

According to a flyer issued by the chamber, questions from the public must be submitted in writing and signed. They must have a complete address and must have a contact phone number.
Questions must be submitted to the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce, 600 Third St., no later than 5 p.m. Thursday.

“We choose this way in order to be timely,” said Thigpen. “Most questions will get to the school board before the forum. We don’t want any of the questions to be a surprise.

“We want to be able to call and verify those questions that may be controversial,” he said. “For example if someone were to submit a controversial question and put my name on it, we would have a number to call and verify if I was that person.

“General questions will probably not need to be verified just those that would get into something personal,” said Thigpen. “I don’t know what those questions would be.

“When we turn the questions in, the names will not be on them,” he said. “The names and other information serve as a form of protection.”

Thigpen said there will be an opportunity for people to ask questions at the forum as well.

“We will give people an opportunity to write their questions down that night,” he said.

“The main thing is that this is an opportunity to get a better, rational understanding of what’s going on,” said Thigpen. “This will be an opportunity to discuss alternatives. I am sure they looked at other things before making this decision.
“We do not have any agenda for either side,” he said. “We’re not for this side or that side.”
For more information about the public forum the chamber is hosting, contact the chamber at 662-843-2712.

Parents Plan March In Protest

Candrese Jones
Staff Writer
Wednesday, Feb 10, 2010

The Cleveland School District’s decision to merge schools along with other changes in the district have caused a huge uproar in the Delta.

As a result, parents have been asked to keep their children out of school on Tuesday to send a powerful message to members of the Cleveland School Board.

“The decision the school board made was not discussed with the community,” said A. Reneé Story Williams, East Side High School graduate and parent. “I came up with this idea of keeping students out of school because if there are no students in school, there are no federal dollars and that takes money away from the district.

“When we had the meeting (Feb. 8) the school board president (Dr. Harvey Jackson) did not answer any of our questions that night in regards to what we specifically asked him,” said Williams.

Williams is asking that every parent keep their children home from school on Tuesday and meet at 3 p.m. at East Side High School and march from the high school to the Cleveland School District Central Office for the school board meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“If it rains, we’ll wear our rain suits,” said Williams. “We will still march or we will drive over there in our cars.

“We are concerned about our children’s education,” she said. “If we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything. We need to come out in numbers and let the school board know we are not playing. We will not take this laying down.

“This is a peaceful demonstration,” Williams added. “This is something people understand. This will not be anything violent because I am not a violent person.

“This is something we’re doing to be heard,” she said. “This is for justice, equality. This is nothing racial and above all I put God first in everything I do.”

“I can not speak for anyone else other than myself,” said Williams. “I am not interested in the forum the chamber is hosting. Where were they when the board was making these decisions?

“Why is it imperative that they get involved now?” she said. “What are they offering our children?

“I can’t speak for anyone else but me,” Williams continued. I only speak for me and no one else. I will not be attending the meeting.”
For more information about the march from East Side High School to the Cleveland School District Central Office, contact Williams at 662-843-9933 or at 662-402-5248.

School Zoning Goes To Court

Candrese Jones
Staff Writer
Thursday, Feb 11, 2010

In 2007, two concerned citizens filed a complaint with the United States District Court against the Cleveland School District.

Claude Boddie and Ajax Morris Jr. filed the compliant in an effort to get school zones changed within the district. Now three years later, Boddie continues the fight.

“The trail began Monday and ended (Wednesday) afternoon,” said Cleveland School District Attorney Jamie Jacks. “It was a bench trail meaning there was no jury.

“The court has given each party 21 days to submit brief findings to argue their cases,” said Jacks. “Each party has to give their best case in a brief form.

“The court will then review it and render their decision.”

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Michael P. Mills for the Northern District of Mississippi is presiding over this case. The attorney for plaintiff, Boddie, is Ellis Turnage of Cleveland.

Boddie is determined to get the boundary lines changed for school zones in the Cleveland School District.

“We’re really trying to get more blacks in district five,” said School Board President Harvey Jackson. “If we were successful, it would give us a 69 percent black vote in district five.

“(Maurice) Lucas and myself supported the proposal Turnage presented to us,” said Jackson. “The majority on the board rejected the proposal and it went to court.

“We were suppose to be in Oxford (Feb. 8) to be witnesses but I didn’t go,” he said.
Jacks said she would not like to comment on as to what the proposal was submitted by Turnage.

“The litigation is ongoing and I don’t feel comfortable commenting on it,” she said. “This is a question Dr. Harvey could answer.”
More on this issue will be in Friday’s edition of The Bolivar Commercial.

Decision Process On Merging Given

Candrese Jones
Staff Writer

Tuesday, Feb 16, 2010

“We hope that this forum provides insight to the public about these changes,” said James Glorioso, Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce president during Monday night’s forum on the changes to happen in the Cleveland School District.

Approximately 150 people attended the public forum and while questions from the audience were taken and answered about 20 minutes of the two and a half hour forum were monopolized by the school board.

More on the forum is to follow in The Bolivar Commercial.

“The chamber has been long involved in activities related to education,” said Glorioso. “An education committee was formed many years ago to help address the needs of education in Bolivar County. This was done to assure new businesses looking at Bolivar County, that we have a great education opportunity for them and their employees.

“The chamber has also had a long history of sponsoring public forums to discuss various issues,” he said. “We have hosted forums for elected officials and forums for these public issues.

“After the recent decisions of the school board, we’ve heard a lot of questions from the community so our education committee decided to hold a public forum to get a better understanding about their decisions,” Gloroiso continued. “You can see that hosting this forum is a continuation of these offerings of public information. We hope that you get the information you need tonight and we hope that you enjoy this forum.”

The forum begun with an opening presentation by School Board President Harvey Jackson addressing the decisions made by the board.

“The Cleveland School Board along with the superintendent has the awesome responsibility of making some tough decisions that we know affect the lives of many families, parents and other concerned citizens within the community,” said Jackson. “The educating of children is serious with all of us, especially the parents of the children, as well as the concerns of the community.

“There is so much involved globally in terms of making these kinds of decisions of operating the day-to-day school system that we have here in Cleveland,” he continued. “One of the major concerns that has generated so much in our communities and concerns at the school board (meetings) is — after much discussion, after meeting with various individuals and groups, and this has been going on for several years — about the conditions of H.M. Nailor Elementary School.
Jackson said the board met with the several groups, including the PTSO of Nailor, about the condition of the school but it was after a visit there in November that the board decided the school need to be closed.

He explained after the decision, the board looked at building a new school on the Nailor campus which would house both the children from the Nailor area and those from Bell Elementary.

“Of course this was before we were hit in terms of budget cuts and other concerns to what we could do in actually building a new school at Nailor,” said Jackson. “The decision that we made in December had to do with it was in our best interest in terms of closing Nailor and moving the students from Nailor into the Cypress building or putting them into Bell Elementary School.

“After much discussion back and forth and working with the administrative staff as to what we could do in terms of space and what could actually work best in terms of the decision that we had before us, the board proposed closing Nailor and moving the students into Cypress or to other parts of the district,” he continued. “We thought that Cypress would be the most feasible place in terms of moving and at the same time creating a math and science and wellness school at Bell.

“We asked the administration to look at the numbers and come back and let us know as to how this may fit into what we were thinking about doing,” said Jackson. “Of course once we got the information and we made a decision in terms of closing not only Nailor but moving our junior high students, seventh- and eighth-graders, at both of our (junior) high schools into our high school facilities.

“We made these decisions based on (the fact) that Margaret Green was on the same campus with Cleveland High School and of course East Side and D.M. Smith was on different campuses but we needed the space to put Nailor students,” he said. “Since the enrollment at D.M. Smith was constantly dropping and (had) dropped from one point of having over 300 students at D.M. Smith down to over 190 students this present year, we thought that it would be a smooth transition for us.

“Plus it would give the D.M. Smith students an opportunity to have enclosure in terms of a class room facility,” Jackson continued. “Of course we kinda put that out in the community to actually get some feedback and we got some concerns about the smaller children being in Cypress’ open concept.

“Then we came back and asked the superintendent in terms of looking at leaving the Pre-K, K and first grade at Nailor in the new wing at Nailor and just closing or tearing down the older part of Nailor,” he said. “This would also create some room for us to be able to put students at Cypress which would start at second grade rather than Pre-K there.

“Well since that time the superintendent came back with other recommendations to the board and that was to put the Pre-K at Bell and to just have kindergarten and first grade at H.M. Nailor
because of space purposes within the new facility that we actually have left at there,” said Jackson.

“We are still working and adjusting the original decision that we made in terms of closing Nailor completely and moving Nailor students to the Cypress campus.

“We are still working in terms of making those adjustments but that was our original proposal,” he said. “We’ve made several adjustments since then to that original proposal and we’re continuing to make adjustments as we receive instructions from the administrative staff of our district.

“We are continuing to make adjustments that are in the best interest of the students that we’re having to move and what is in the best interest of the Cleveland School District,” Jackson continued. “Let me say that according to our policy and according to our focus, our goal is that academics is the number one focus for every child that makes up the Cleveland School District. The other concerns that we have is what is in the best goal for which we have for our district and for the students.

“That is what we are concerned about and we keep that utmost in our minds in terms of making decisions as a board and working with the administrative staff,” he said. “With that in mind, we have allowed academics to drive our decisions in terms of what we’re going to do and where we’re going to go and we continue from that particular perspective.

“We will cover many of these questions and over lap some of them in our discussion as we unfold tonight,” Jackson said. “Our plan is for these changes to begin in 2010-2011 school year and of course as we continue to work through the questions and solutions to our problems that we have after we have finished with the tonight; after we meet tomorrow; after we continue on working with the superintendent and the administration as this unfolds for us in the next few weeks.”

Board clarifies litigation

Candrese Jones
Staff Writer
Tuesday, Feb 16, 2010

The ongoing litigation between Claud E. Boddie and the Cleveland School District deals with the redrawing of district election lines.

During the public forum Monday night, sponsored by the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce, questions arose about the case and the trustees and the school attorney were asked to clarify some misunderstandings.

“The lawsuit is (about) the redrawing of the district voting lines,” said Trustee George Evans. “It has nothing to do with redrawing the school lines.

“The reason we were in court last week was dealing with the redrawing of election lines; it has nothing to do with school lines,” he reiterated.

Evans also addressed the ongoing litigation between the district and the Department of Justice, regarding the 1989 Consent Decree.

“Our position with the federal government is a litigation being processed since 1969 and is ongoing,” said Evans. “And it will continue to be ongoing, so I guess, from here on. As of right now, we’re not going to comment on that.”

Trustee Richard Boggs said questions arose about the relation or lack there of between the litigation with the school district and Boddie due to an article printed in the “local newspaper.”

“I know there has been a lot of questions out there in the community concerning this,” said Boggs.

“That litigation last week was concerning elections not school zones. That kinda got misrepresented in the local paper there so that was local school board election zones not school zones. Let everybody (be) clear on that.”

“That case was all about our tidy district lines,” said School Board Attorney Jamie Jacks. “One of the big points of the case was the Delta State students and whether they needed to be removed.

“And if so, then what happens to our district lines,” said Jacks. “It really, it had no real educational component at all. It was a voting rights case specifically.

“It all sort of happened — this issue and that came up at the same time — I can understand the confusion but it really was all about voting rights,” she said.

In a previous article, Boddie made a comment that, “What we’re doing now in district five’s school district is white block voting. It isn’t fair. The school’s line zoning is strictly unfair. It should be 55 percent black voting in that precinct.”
“It is already a 55 percent black vote,” said Evans, district five’s representative. “They’re trying to get it to a 69.5 to 70 percent vote that would make it hard for me to get elected.”

Over 1,000 Students Out Today

Candrese Jones
Staff Writer
Tuesday, Feb 16, 2010
As of presstime, the Cleveland School District had a total of 31 percent of the district’s student body reported absent today.
“The count we have is 31 percent districtwide reported absences,” said Assistant Superintendent Roy Jacks. “I don’t know how many of those students are attending school on the east side.

“The 31 percent of absent students is from the total of the entire district,” said Jacks. “That equals to 1,092 students out of 3,496.”
As of presstime, Jacks was attending a meeting and could not verify as to whether or not the reported absences were a reflection of the planned protest by some members of the Cleveland School District community.
A concerned parent A. Renee Story Williams made a request to the Cleveland community to keep children home for school today.
“The decision the school board made was not discussed with the community,” said Williams, in a previous interview. “I came up with this idea of keeping students out of school because if there are no students in school, there are no federal dollars and that takes money away from the district.
Williams had asked that every parent keep their children home from school on today and meet at 3 p.m. at H.M. Nailor Elementary to march from the elementary school to the Cleveland School District Central Office for the school board meeting at 6 p.m.

“This is a peaceful demonstration,” she said. “This is something people understand. This will not be anything violent because I am not a violent person.

“This is something we’re doing to be heard,” said Williams. “This is for justice, equality. This is nothing racial and above all I put God first in everything I do.”

Cleveland Police Chief Buster Bingham said he, along with a couple other officers, will be at the school board meeting tonight.

“We will basically be there for crowd control,” said Bingham. “I don’t foresee there being anything major happening tonight.” 

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

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