Sunday, March 02, 2008

Mandates Lifted from Madison County

Recently the Federal Court of Appeals in New Orleans lifted the guidelines for full integration of the Madison County, MS, public schools. Almost forty years have passed since the federal government forced integration of a district school system divided mostly by demographics and culture. The southern portion of Madison county steadily grows upward, having added one additional new high school and several new grade school buildings in recent years. Physical improvements have been made in schools of the northern portion where there’s little to no growth.

The federal mandate was lifted by the Court after the superintendent through intervention of their lawyers ask for a review of the integration attempts made to provide every school with the necessary learning tools and transferring teachers and students to balance the white/black ratio. The mandate created havoc when new buildings were needed to accomodate a surging student population, bonds for construction couldn't advance, or changes to curriculum were put on a back burner. Lacking these advancements caused excessive crowding of schools in southern Madison county.

The struggle to integrate this county has had its successes and its failures these years. During much of that time I was a member of the high school faculty in the city of Madison and watched compliance with changes that were instituted. Transportation was a major struggle. Parents, but not the federal government, understood that under no circumstances would they have their children bussed all over the county, regardless of the benefits, to satisfy just the government. The distance meant no parental support for night meetings and student activities.

Two magnet schools were organized many years apart in different sections of the county. Besides new buildings, up-to-date equipment, sound curriculum, time and resources were spent establishing a bi-racial advisory committee, implementing procedures to recruit minority teachers-- creative ways to fulfill federal guidelines. Students used to the local shopping, movie theaters, and variety of school activities in the southern area couldn’t fathom leaving their happy high school life for a place considered “country” and isolated from two cities’ attractions(Madison and nearby Ridgeland). Demographics and culture were the culprits. Fortunately, now the facilities of one magnet school are being utilized for summer training of teachers.

Now, with mandates lifted, within five years the district will begin to move forward. The Court recognizes that this district has done its best, because the county is naturally divided in black/white population and culture. Expansion northward will occur as families look for new places to build homes and small towns get a second life.

The biggest lesson the government learned is the old adage: "You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear."

(Note: information was gathered from an article in the local newspaper,The Clarion-Ledger and the author’s memory of her small involvement in the process.)

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