Dr. Mary Brown, the superintendent who is presiding over the upcoming merger of the Greenwood and Leflore County school districts, says there are no plans to close any schools with the consolidation.
If that winds up being the case, the merger is not going to be as successful as it could be.
There are only two reasons to combine the two districts into one: improve the quality of education, and save the taxpayers’ money.
Closing duplicative, overlapping schools can accomplish both goals.
The most obvious reduction in buildings is at the high school level. Presently, there are three high schools between the Greenwood and Leflore County districts. The same geographic area could easily get by with two high schools, and possibly one.
The most logical step would be to move Amanda Elzy’s high school students next fall over to Greenwood High, given the close proximity of the schools and the better physical condition of Greenwood High. Then longer term, the school board should look at building a new, thoroughly modern high school in Greenwood that would serve all of the county. Such a countywide school, based on present enrollments, would include about 1,300 students — about the size of Greenwood High in the early 1980s.
Not only would merging Greenwood and Elzy save on building expenses, but it should reduce personnel, both in administration and in the classroom. Class sizes could be more optimally maximized, thus reducing the number of teachers. The number of principals and assistant principals also should be less with one school rather than two.
How would merging the high schools improve education quality? There are several possibilities.
Both school districts, as with much of the Delta, struggle with teacher shortages. This forces them in some classrooms to put instructors who are teaching out of their subject area. That’s especially the case in subjects where teachers are most scarce, such as math, science and foreign languages. By combining high schools, there should be less of that — meaning that students more likely would be taught by instructors who have a mastery of the subject they are teaching.
In addition, it’s hard to cost-justify Advanced Placement or other college-credit courses unless there is enough of a critical mass of students interested and capable of taking them. A larger student body would provide more of these opportunities for high-achievers.
Maybe Brown and the consolidated school board think it’s just too traumatic to try to close schools during a districtwide consolidation. In fact, this is the perfect time to do it. People are expecting there to be big changes. Bite the bullet, close schools that it makes no sense to keep open, give the students and their parents a better education and extracurricular experience, and the resistance will go away.
Brown says that she and the school board members are currently touring the facilities countywide and assessing their condition and how much it would cost to bring them up to snuff. All they have to do is ask an architect, who will tell them that if money is limited for renovation and repair, which it is, it’s better to do one building right than two buildings half-way.
The school board needs to get past the emotion and do what makes the best business sense. The community and the schools will be better for it.