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January 22, 2004

Teachers told they must reapply for jobs


By Cathy Hayden
chayden@clarionledger.com




Barbara Gauntt/The Clarion-Ledger
Lanier High teachers Rosa King (right) and Johnnie Waples said they viewed Wednesday's meeting between Superintendent Earl Watkins and school staff as positive. Watkins said the person who replaces the retiring principal will be able to take "ownership" of the school.



School profile

Founded:

Lanier High originally opened in 1925 on Ash Street as a school for black students in Jackson and later moved to its current Maple Street location.

Enrollment:

The school has about 950 students, almost all of them black.

Classification:

Lanier High is one of 33 schools in Mississippi rated Level 1, low performing, but is not among the 10 "priority" schools in the state.

Staff:

There are three administrators, 67 teachers and 35 classified employees, such as secretaries and cafeteria workers, who work at the school.



All teachers at Lanier High School in Jackson must reapply for their jobs this fall in a staff shakeup designed to boost test scores at one of the state's worst performing schools.

The reorganization starts next month with hiring a new principal; current Principal Johnny Hughes is retiring at the end of the school year.

Calling it a "bold" move, Jackson schools Superintendent Earl Watkins said he believes the reorganization is unavoidable for Lanier, which the state rates as one of 33 Level 1 low-performing schools because of poor student scores on state tests.

"To really reinvigorate that school there is no other way around it," he said. "It ended up being the obvious solution."

He postponed a planned trip out of town to meet with teachers and other staff members for more than an hour Wednesday afternoon. He told them they all must reapply for jobs at Lanier or in another Jackson school.

Lanier High students today will take home letters to their parents announcing the staff will be revamped.

One student, senior Brian Jefferson, 18, called the reorganization plan "crazy."

"It's definitely not the right thing to do," he said. "Some of the teachers might not look good on paper, but they're excellent teachers."

But several educators leaving the meeting in the school library said they view the reorganization positively and plan to reapply for jobs there.

"We were admonished to remember what is going on and to be receptive to what we need to do and we're going to do it," said Rosa King, a special education teacher who returned to Lanier High this year after previously working there. "This is my favorite place in Jackson," she said.

Likewise, Johnnie Waples, a ninth-grade Algebra I teacher who graduated from Lanier High in 1969, plans to reapply. "I came back to Lanier to help the students here and make the school a better place," she said.

Cecil Blue, a government economics teacher for 11 years, said he believes the reorganization will be good for Lanier.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere but Lanier High School," he said. "My family roots go back to 1947."

Board member Charles Tillman and board vice president H. Ann Jones attended the staff meeting with Watkins. "They understand something needs to be done," Tillman said.

The new principal will select a transition team that includes parents and community members who will help him select his staff, Watkins said.

As part of that process, student test scores and disciplinary information for individual teachers will be scrutinized, Watkins said.

Lanier High offers unique programs and personalities. Noted 1960s civil rights leader Bob Moses teaches classes as part of his Algebra Project. Ouida Barnett Atkins, daughter of the late Gov. Ross Barnett, teaches history and leads a nationally acclaimed First Amendment project that teaches students about the Constitution.

"I was very impressed with Superintendent Watkins' talk," Atkins said.

Atkins said she hopes to stay at Lanier at least one more year and finish the third year of the First Amendment grant project. "I hope the student body vision (gained from the project) will have a good effect and a lasting effect on getting Lanier on the right path and get us out of Level 1," she said.

Watkins said all programs and all personnel will be evaluated for effectiveness.

"Our programs there are not yielding the level of success we're looking for," he said.

Donna Burns, whose daughter is a Lanier High ninth-grader, heard about the reorganization Wednesday.

"I think the changes are going to broaden their minds a little bit more," she said. "I think if they get ahold of better staff, things will be different for Lanier and they'll be at the level they should be at."

Most Lanier High students did not know of proposed changes when they left school Wednesday afternoon, although they had heard about Hughes' retirement.

Adrian McClinton, 17, a senior, has been involved in the First Amendment project. "I feel strongly about my school. I recommend it to anybody," McClinton said.

Senior Nicholas Polk, 18, praised Lanier's teachers. "After school sometimes they have tutoring classes, programs like that to help the students out," he said.

After talking with board members Tuesday night, Watkins said he decided to announce the reorganization on Wednesday to staff. The board did not have to vote on plan.

Watkins said he had talked to few people about it ahead of time. "I've pondered it for a while, and I've kept it close to to me," he said.

In the early 1990s, Jim Hill High and Provine High underwent similar total reorganizations, Watkins said.

Susan Rucker, associate state superintendent of education, said she knows of no other Level 1 school that is undergoing a complete reorganization such as this, although several have gotten new principals.

Jackson Parents for Public Schools has been intimately involved with Lanier High through a major grant project called Ask 4 More. "We stand ready to work strategically with the district and school community to help Lanier High School succeed in its reorganization and rise to a higher level of school performance," said director Susan Womack.

chayden@clarionledger.com

— By Cathy Hayden
Teachers told they must reapply for jobs

www.clarionledger.com/news/o401/22/ma01.html


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