Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

TOP STORY >> PCSSD is to blame for woes, city says

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

A growing number of people in the Jacksonville community think the Pulaski County Special School District is inflicting punishment in return for the town’s attempt to start its own school district.

“That’s absolutely, 100 percent totally false,” school board member Jeff Shaneyfelt said Tuesday. “They’ll throw gas on a fire to make it burn. I have no problem with Jacksonville. I think it ought to get what everyone else gets.

“The district budget is $5 to $6 million up-side down. Where do you get the money? We tried the cut payroll. The state board said no. We cut everybody out we can cut.”

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim is among those who think his community isn’t being treated fairly by the school district, especially the way the district is handling problems at the Jacksonville Middle School’s boys campus.

“I believe it’s set up for failure so they can say Jacksonville didn’t do it,” the mayor said Tuesday. “Parents are trying to work within the system and teachers are working hard. The district is just not coming close to what they promised.”

Rising to his feet, district board member Rev. James Bolden of Jacksonville, loudly denounced school officials Monday evening for reneging, he said, on a freshly minted promise to leave two assistant principals at the troubled boys campus.

“I know you have a problem with (boys school Principal Mic-hael) Nellums, and I know you have a problem with me,” Bolden told Marvin V. Jeter III, assistant superintendent for learning services, in a stentorian voice he usually reserves for chasing evil from the sanctuary of his Jacksonville church.

“You went and talked against me. I’m sorry, but I know doggone well what I’m dealing with,” Bolden charged as board members and administrators sat silently at a meeting called to address the district’s Fiscal Dis-tress Improvement Plan.
“We had a meeting (last week). You said we could have two (assistant principals), but you pulled one out and sent (her) to (Jacksonville High School.)”

The board last week declined to approve an administration recommendation to transfer Jackie Calhoun, Nellums’ lone full-time assistant principal at the troubled boys campus, to the high school.

But by Monday, administrators had instead moved a part-time assistant principal, Colleen John-son, to the high school.
Acting Superintendent Robert Clowers on Monday night declined to confirm that a principal had been moved, saying instead that his staff would reconsider the matter Tuesday. Clowers didn’t return a telephone call about that issue Tuesday.
Asked Tuesday how many assistants he now had at the boys campus, Nellums said, “I have one. They took Ms. Johnson away, sent her to the high school.”

Problems with implementation of the single-gender school at the boys campus have stirred up the Jacksonville community and spilled over into a meeting last week with the chamber of commerce education committee. The topic will be on the agenda when the Jacksonville City Council meets at 7 p.m. Thursday at city hall.

At that chamber meeting with some district officials on Oct. 12, area businessmen told Clowers and Jeter that they needed to provide whatever help the boys campus needed to succeed in the new, single-gender environment.

Jacksonville officials and Nellums want more disciplinary help — like assistant principals at the boys campus, where more than 60 boys have been suspended since the beginning of the school year, and fights at the school are common.
Some parents had asked the board to leave Calhoun at the school, and the board did.

Shaneyfelt said discipline is a district-wide problem. He said about a dozen parents of high-school students in his district were considering transferring to other districts to escape the unruly environment.
“We all need help with discipline,” Shaneyfelt said.

The district is implementing a ratio of one assistant principal for each 375 students at a school, a higher-staffing level than the state minimum of 1 per 500 students.

Bolden said he wanted the boys and girls campuses to be redesignated as two separate schools, each with its own principal and assistant principals — a position backed by Swaim at the chamber meeting.

“Everybody knows we’ve been trying to get our own school district and the judge says we can’t do that,” Swaim said.
“So we’ve been trying to help the district every way we can. The middle school is an experimental process and the city of Jacksonville and its constituents were willing to do that. Now I’m disappointed. (The school) is not provided re-sources, or a proper administrative staff.
“I have gotten positive calls from the girls school and boys school that think it can work, but not unless the school district provides the proper resources.”