As of Tuesday, the Aberdeen School District no longer has an acting superintendent.
The Mississippi Department of Education took over the school on Tuesday and met with parents, faculty and students to discuss the impending changes.
Rumors of picket lines and rioters circulated around the school and the city of Aberdeen, and law enforcement officials showed up in force at Aberdeen High School to prevent such events from occurring. However, parents and teachers alike seemed to support the takeover and Tuesday’s meeting occurred without incident.
MDE first met with the faculty to dispel any rumors that they would all be handed pink slips. According to Robert Strebeck, the school district’s new conservator, that is not the case. However, Strebeck was quick to tell both teachers and parents what he expected from the school’s staff, saying, “I have an expectation of everyone in this district, and that is for them to do their jobs. And if they don’t, we’ll find someone who will.”
The new conservator did address the school’s financial problems, saying, “We do have a financial issue and we’re going to have to make some cuts, folks.”
During the open meeting in the high school’s gymnasium, Conservator Strebeck also told the large crowd that there would no longer be a superintendent nor a school board. According to the new conservator, “There’s no more board meetings. There will be an agenda and I will sign it. And when I sign it, I just had a board meeting.”
MDE was first notified of the school district’s issues back in December when school officials contacted the state with concerns that they were not going to be able to meet payroll or pay the utility bill. MDE began a financial evaluation and, on Jan. 4, they launched a full investigative audit. On Jan. 11, MDE officials met with the Aberdeen school board and advised them about the “serious situation” at hand.
According to MDE the Aberdeen School District was failing in four key areas. First, they were in danger of losing their accreditation. Secondly, the district failed to comply with state education regulations, meeting only six of 37 standards. Third, the school failed to comply with federal education standards. Lastly, MDE reviewed the academic performance of Aberdeen students and found the results shockingly low. In 2010-11 the Aberdeen School District was rated as being on Academic Watch; in 2009-10 and 2008-09 it was ranked At Risk of Failing.
[The state accountability model looks at the same achievement levels as No Child Left Behind: minimal, basic, proficient and advanced. The state department uses a district's MCT2 scores to generate a Quality Distribution Index (QDI) score. A district is awarded one point for each percentage of children that score basic, two points for the percentage children who score proficient and three points for those who score advanced. No points are awarded for students who score minimal. The number of QDI points then determines the accreditation level: Star, High Performing, Successful, Academic Watch, Low Performing, At Risk of Failing and Failing. – SF]
On Wednesday, April 18, the state board met and began the process to declare a state of emergency within the Aberdeen School District. By Friday, the positions of the superintendent and the school board had been abolished, with Gov. Phil Bryant declaring the department of education the official overseers of the district.
Aberdeen is the eighth school district to be taken over by the state and, if Tuesday’s meeting is any indication, it will be a welcome change.
According to Larry Drowdy, the deputy state superintendent, “MDE does not want to be in Aberdeen. We are here from one basic reason: To make sure the boys and girls in this school have an adequate education in the State of Mississippi.” The room burst into a round of applause as Drowdy continued: “MDE is not interested in politics. They’re not interested in who is married to whom, who is friends with whom. They’re only interested in one thing, taking care of our children.”
Drowdy told the crowd that MDE would begin by checking records, ensuring that every child meets the required criteria to graduate. He said, “If a child has been in school for twelve years, they need to be able to walk across that stage. But they must meet the criteria to graduate.”
Strebeck echoed Drowdy’s sentiments by telling the students and parents “we need to concentrate on finishing school. Parents, you need to go home and talk with your children about the tests coming up. We need them to finish school and walk across that stage.”
Angela Buckingham is a parent of a high school senior and says she is looking forward to the change. “I’m looking for a better education,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, it starts at home, but I’m looking for a better education for my son.”
The takeover was effective immediately. MDE officials could not give a time period on how long they will be in Aberdeen, but Drowdy said, “MDE wants to get in and get out as quickly as possible.”
Aberdeen Mayor Cecil Belle hopes the takeover will turn the Aberdeen School District into a “model school” and said, “We are Aberdeen. We are in this situation, good or bad. Let’s move forward. Let’s make our school district great again.”