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Joint GPSD & City Town Hall Meeting a success

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Posted: Friday, August 4, 2017 10:29 am

Kristina Norman knorman@ddtonline.com | 0 comments

In an effort to create a more transparent partnership between the Greenville Public School District and the City of Greenville, administrators and officials with both organizations hosted the first of four quarterly meetings Thursday evening at City Hall.

The hour-long session focused on the first 100 days of school and featured a presentation from GPSD Superintendent Janice Page-Johnson as well as a brief Q-and-A in which residents chose to use that as an opportunity to welcome the new district members.

What the first forum offered and encouraged was trust building among community members, school district personnel, parents and community members so all can work together in the progression of the school district and community.

Mayor Errick D. Simmons said it’s important for the local government to show its support for the city’s educational system because both have a mutual interest.

“I’m a firm believer that the Greenville Public School District is everyone’s public school district. We’re dealing with our children, and we need to take a holistic approach in every single entity,” Simmons said to those sitting in the pews of the City Hall Chambers as well as those who were standing in the hallway.

Those entities, he said, include local government, businesses and organizations all getting behind the Greenville public schools because education and economic development go hand-in-hand.

Jan Vaughn, president of the district’s Board of Trustees, publicly thanked the mayor for working with the school district to establish a community forum to create more transparency and improve the relationship between the district and community.

“We believe that if we grow academically, our city will too economically. It’s a two-fold thing that we have to work together in order to be successful. We, the Board of Trustees, are focused on moving this district forward, and we want to thank the community for all the support you have given us,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn also praised the district’s new superintendent, who marked her first month at the helm of the Greenville Public School District on Thursday.

“If you have seen Dr. Page-Johnson, you know that she has hit the ground running. It has been very impressive for her to come in and see her commitment,” she said.

Page-Johnson’s support doesn’t stop locally, though, as was evident Thursday when her former boss and mentor, Arthur McMillan, superintendent of the Biloxi School District, where she was employed for several years, showed up at the forum.

Over the past month, McMillan said he has called Page-Johnson nearly every day giving his support and encouraging her every step of the way.

“You didn’t have to put expectations on her; she brought them with her. She’s the smartest curriculum person I’ve ever met. You talk about smart and courageous,” McMillan said.

Page-Johnson said what she learned from McMillan’s leadership and guidance will help her lead the Greenville Public School District.

“What I saw in him over the years helped me see right here today. He has helped me grow and learn so much and how to be confident,” she said.

Establishing goals, making changes  

Page-Johnson said she and the Board of Trustees have already established four goals for the district this year, which include:

  • improving student achievement;
  • building community trust and district transparency with all stakeholders;
  • working to promote safe, disciplined healthy and drug-free schools; and
  • ensuring effective and efficient use of resources.

Page-Johnson said she views the partnership between the community and GPSD as a team effort because both must work together if they want to succeed and reach these goals. 

“If you don’t leave this room with anything else, understand the urgency of where we are and the time on task that we have to place right now to move the district forward,” Page-Johnson said, referring to the district’s F-rating from the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program which must be improved this year or a state takeover could be in the works. 

Aside from the four goals, Page-Johnson said another way to move the district forward is implementing an early reading program.

The district’s new phonics program is part of the state’s “Mississippi Literacy-Based Promotion Act,” which aims for children to be proficient readers by the end of third grade so that they can learn effectively.

One thing parents will notice different about this school year, Page-Johnson said Thursday, are the modified start times, which are staggered to help the district take advantage of every minute of the instructional day. Administrators also hope the staggered times will help reduce transportation times.

The district is also changing the location for its magnet program. For the past few years, middle and high school students took accelerated classes at Solomon Magnet School. Now, however, they will take those classes at their base schools. Doing so, Page-Johnson said, will help decrease teacher competition among the districts four sites, reduce class size, eliminate transportation conflict issues, allow AP students more rigorous pathways and put the focus back on where the accreditation is placed.

Going into the new school year, Page-Johnson said she wants staff and administration to be prepared.

“Regardless of what resources we bring in, our teachers have to be ready. They have to be confident,” she said, adding the same also goes for the students. 

Support from city officials, GPSD trustees

City Council members who attended the forum also chimed in, offering support and encouragement for the new administration and the start of the 2017-18 school year. 

“I am a graduate of the Greenville public school system and my children are too. I have four grandchildren that will be graduating this year. I am also an advocate of Greenville’s public school system. Anything that I can do to foster the Greenville public school system I am willing to do,” Councilwoman Betty Watkins said.

Councilman Al Brock also had glowing things to say for the new administration and its willingness to involve itself with the community.

“This is something we have been needing to do for a long time. I’m just excited about where we are going and what you are bringing to the school. We all know how important this is to the community and the economy,” he said. 

Councilman James Wilson agreed, saying it appears Greenville is moving in the right direction.

“I think we are starting in the right direction,” he said, adding Page-Johnson might have been that piece of the puzzle that had been missing for so long. “She is something that we’ve been needing for a long time with the community, city and school involvement.

GPSD’s trustees, too, agreed this is the time for change. 

While trustee Kimberly Jones Merchant acknowledged the difficulties the district faces, she said they have faith in Page-Johnson to tackle those difficulties head first.

“We had a really hard year (last year) in the Greenville Public School District. I know you guys are well aware of the challenges. We have an opportunity here and we are blessed to have Dr. Johnson, and (we) really do believe in her,” Merchant said.

Trustee Shirley Cartlidge also offered her support and prayers for Page-Johnson: “I want you to know that Greenville has the resources and support to get us both back to the top. You have my personal support and prayers.”

Willie Goins, the associate administrator of operations for GPSD, closed the forum — within the hour time limit, too — by delivering an uproarious prayer, asking everyone in the room to join hands, creating one enormous chain.

The next meeting has yet to be set, but Page-Johnson said she hopes to host one each school term.





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