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Consolidating Mississippi’s Schools

Mac Gordon

Donuts on Cake

For too many years, Mississippi’s public school districts and their patrons have been stubborn over consolidating neighboring schools and systems.

Let’s applaud a possible change in that attitude with the stunning news that the Simpson County School District will soon have only one public high school with the impending merger of the Magee and Mendenhall high schools.

I used “stunning” because I would have placed a merger of those operations near the bottom of any list of potential partners. Both are progressive communities with much pride in their respective high schools. Each is sound academically. Both have won many state titles in myriad sports. Together, they will win many more.

My goodness, what’s the next consolidation? Biloxi and Gulfport? Aberdeen and Amory? Leland and Greenville? Wheeler and Jumpertown? Countless other districts and schools make perfect sense for a merger.

Simpson County citizens will vote March 29 on a $39 million bond issue to help finance the overall costs of the union, which apparently will take place whether or not the bond issue passes. I predict it passes with flying colors.

Reports say the money that would be raised in the bond issue would construct athletic and fine arts facilities. The district already has enough funds for a new high school building on a site to be determined.

The district’s trustees have been studying consolidation of the high schools for several years and recently voted to make it happen. “(The board’s) intention is to provide our students with a quality education in a state-of-the-art academic facility,” Superintendent Toriano Holloway said.

Simpson County News editor Pat Brown added: “It is the stance of this newspaper that a consolidated high school … is the way to go. We are for the consolidated high school for the right reasons. It will allow the community to be competitive in recruiting new business here ... We hope the bond issue passes.”

Mississippi public school consolidation is a complicated matter. Many systems are forced into it because of “failing” schools that the state takes over (called “conservatorship”). Some do it for financial reasons in a poor state with limited resources. Other issues also arise when school consolidation is considered, like community pride.

The Mississippi Legislature is faced almost annually with a “school consolidation” proposal. Lawmakers don’t relish making the decision because they’d rather local people make the decision on local controversies. Strong allegiances and traditions exist for particular schools or systems (see athletics), and citizens often join and block such efforts.

One of the best examples of a consolidation that has dramatically improved students’ academic (and athletic) prowess came between the Starkville and Oktibbeha County districts. “Citizens realized that merging could provide a better education for the entire community,” said the local Parents for Public Schools group.

As for athletics, the “new” Starkville High is considered a powerhouse in most sports, particularly football and basketball. Don’t stir up the Yellow Jackets, they’ll hurt you.

The Magee and Mendenhall football programs also have fielded high-flying teams over time. Magee has captured five state titles in the past 30 years and Mendenhall has bagged three. The annual game between the two old teams has been stuff of legend. They’re usually barnburners from start to finish – and not only on the field. Their fans have been known to get into the “action.”

It’s unknown whether the revised Simpson County School District athletic teams will be known as Trojans (Magee) or Tigers (Mendenhall). Under any name, count on them contending for championships annually through merger – and, hopefully, offering stronger academics for all students.

Donuts on Cake
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