The Mississippi Department of Education will take control of the Tunica County school district after an audit found it was in violation of 25 of the state’s 31 school accreditation standards.
According to the accreditation report, the district, which serves about 2,200 students in northwest Mississippi, was out of compliance in several areas of its special education program, the safety of its buildings, and its child nutrition program.
Auditors also noted a series of complaints made to the state education department against the district, regarding a “dysfunctional relationship between the school board and the superintendent” and “lack of effective management of school personnel by the superintendent.”
During the 2013-14 school year, only about 57 percent of students graduated, and only 54 percent of high school students who took the state English exam received a passing score.
Mississippi has long grappled with when to take over schools and how to best manage them, especially those schools that serve rural communities.
Since 1996, Mississippi has taken over more than 15 school districts due to poor academic performance or financial mismanagement, with varying success. A 2014 review of data by The Hechinger Report found that in five school districts that had been under Mississippi’s control for several years and had time to show academic progress, growth was erratic year to year and mediocre in some districts. In some cases, districts showed improvement while under state control but scores dropped when the state intervention ended.
In Tunica County, the state will remove the superintendent and school board members and hire a conservator to oversee the school district while it is under state control.
Nationwide, more than half of all states have laws that allow the state to take over failing districts. Struggling schools may also receive federal School Improvement Grant funds to help with turnaround efforts. A 2014 report on the federal School Improvement Grant program found that rural schools may struggle to improve or make progress under turnaround programs due to their remote locations. Rural schools often face challenges when trying to recruit and retain teachers or administrators, and due to limited transportation options, may have trouble boosting parental involvement.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.