The first in a series of seven countywide town hall-type meetings to chronicle the views of community members regarding the Sunflower County Consolidated School District facilities and future directions, was held on Monday night at the First United Baptist Church in Indianola.
The firm Brown and Associates was contracted by the district to facilitate the sessions to get input from citizens in each community to compile a study that will convey the voice of the people to the school officials.
The SCCSD wants to know what the people will support. Should the district attempt to renovate and make better use of existing facilities, construct two new high schools or one centralized high school and where should it be erected and how should it be funded?
Adrian Brown and his team gave a brief overview of the process, which includes a 19-question survey that can be taken online, before making general statements on facilities assessment, construction options and possible sources of funding.
Monday’s meeting ended with a question and answer segment where many of the queries that came from the audience were re-directed to Superintendent Miskia Davis because Brown emphasized that his firm was only hired to conduct the survey.
Former Ruleville Middle School principal, educator and Gentry High graduate Bessie Gardner led off the questioning by asking Davis if the feasibility study, which was done several years ago, that rated Gentry High School the worst school in the district, was still accurate and being considered in this process.
Davis said that it was.
“Are we (just) studying the study to do another study?” Gardner asked.
Brown said the study that Gardner was referencing was done in 2014. Gardner said that if Gentry was previously deemed the worse school then without a question it should receive priority. Several others including NAACP President Charles Modley echoed her sentiments, with Modley adding that Indianola deserved to be the site of the new school since it is the county seat and has the highest paying tax base in the county.
Davis refuted their perceptions, injecting that although Gentry has its issues, improvements have been made and it is not the only school to be considered.
She said that persons in Indianola may be more aware of Gentry’s needs than people in Ruleville, but likewise people in Ruleville will feel just as strongly about what their students need.
She said it would take educating people in each community as to what the needs are, because everyone must work together.
Rev. Clifford Wilson suggested presenting photos of the flooding situation at Gentry and other concerns from each community so all can see what the conditions are at each school.
“There is really going to need to be a coming together of the northern end and the south end because just as sure as we are passionate about Gentry, you have some there who are passionate,” said Betty Petty, a citizen at the meeting. “We have got to bring this together to get the division out of our school district. We must remember we are here for the benefit of our children.”
Davis said that having all the communities together at a neutral site was something they needed to consider, because the “mindset” has to change. She said people in Ruleville are thinking about Ruleville High and people in Indianola are thinking about Gentry.
“We also recognize that it’s going to take the entire district to float a bond issue so that’s why we have to have meetings on each end of the county to get the voice of all people,” Davis said.
Citizen Benjamin Nance, another concerned citizen questioned why the other communities were not represented at Monday’s session and Davis reminded him that each community will have its own meeting.
Wilson reiterated that this is a consolidated school district and if a bond is going to be issued to put a school anywhere in Sunflower County, then it will require all residents of the county to do so.
“We need them, they need us, so we better start thinking about some neutral site that’s gonna benefit everybody in Sunflower County,” he said.
Modley pointed out that some have suggested Blaine as a neutral site for a combined high school, but he is vehemently opposed to that,
“Blaine has nothing to offer, no more than a halfway point, no sewage, no police department, no grocery stores, no fire department,” he said, adding that Blaine, in his opinion, doesn’t have an adequate infrastructure and that a large portion of any money allocated for a school there would be used up on the infrastructure,
“It’s nonsense, the school needs to be built here in Indianola Mississippi,” Modley said.
Another citizen asked if the Cassie Pennington school building would be part of the assessment and was it being considered for use.
Davis said that it has a mold and mildew infestation issue. Then someone asked if there has been a cost assessment to determine the cost of renovation compared to building a new school. Brown said that’s not what they were hired to do.
Davis maintained that they are at the grassroots level and whatever decisions made must be about what’s best for all of the children, the district has 3,826 K-12 students plus an additional 120 Pre-K students.
The 19-question assessment can be taken online at sunflowercountyyourvoicematters.com.