WINONA – The Winona Montgomery Consolidated School District school board voted to close Montgomery County High School and Montgomery County Elementary School next school year and serve all students in Montgomery County at Winona Elementary School and Winona High School.
Closing the two Kilmichael schools came at the recommendation of Dr. Teresa Jackson, Superintendent of Education for WMCSD, following a brief presentation comparing student performance, number of students served at each school, and the cost to operate all four schools in the county.
According to Jackson, not only is Montgomery County the smallest school district in the state of Mississippi, it has one of the highest per student costs in the state. Mike Kent, assistant state superintendent for the Mississippi Department of Education, said those two factors always work together due to what is required from each district from the state.
Currently, Montgomery County High School has 97 students enrolled, and Montgomery County Elementary School has 145 students.
Montgomery County High School’s high cost per student at $14,270 per student is the highest cost per pupil statewide. Recently, Jackson explained that regardless if a school has 500 students or 100 students, the cost to operate a high school – with a counselor, librarian, food services, transportation, extracurricular programs, and teachers needed for the mandatory classes – is highly involved.
By closing the two schools, the consolidated school district will save $3,853,078 a school year.
Jackson noted that the Montgomery County School Board recently voted to put all students – pre-kindergarten through 12th grades – in one school this school year to help curb expense.
“Montgomery County is also in the bottom 10 [districts] in the state in accountability standings,” Jackson said.
Jackson compared the most recent state test results, noting that Winona School District has an accountability ranking of a B, while Montgomery County has a ranking of a D.
Jackson also weighed academic and extracurricular opportunities for students at each school. Winona offers 17 more subjects, including honors English and honors U.S. History, when compared to Montgomery County High School. Both schools have dual enrollment – Winona through Holmes Community College and Montgomery County through Mississippi Valley State University.
Extracurricular opportunities currently available to Winona students only are Band – marching and concert, Winter Guard and Indoor Percussion, Choral and music classes, baseball, softball (fast pitch and slow pitch), and soccer for boys and girls.
Jackson also mentioned Winona’s Career and Technical Center, which already serves students from Winona High School, Montgomery County High School, and Winona Christian School. However, the center is located on the Winona High School campus. Classes offered through the center are Auto I and II, Business Fundamentals, Carpentry, Intro to Construction, Culinary Arts I and II, Digital Media I and II, Health Services I and II, and Metal Fabrication I and II.
“Our goal is to create a very strong school system,” Jackson said.
With the addition of 242 students enrolling at Winona schools, Jackson said additional staff is required. At the elementary school, Jackson said there is a need for four additional certified teachers. She also asked the board to hire nine additional instructional assistants to ensure an assistant is in every classrooms from grades pre-kindergarten through second grade.
At Winona Secondary School, Jackson also asked the board to hire a full-time librarian and one additional certified teacher, with the subject to be determined. She also asked the board to hire a teacher to instruct students on family dynamics and personal finance – a subject she said the board believes should be added to the curriculum.
As for special education teachers, Jackson said she is still looking at the data, but she feels the district will need to employ the three teachers, speech therapist, and two instructional assistants currently employed at Montgomery County School District.
The cost of the additional staff will be $839,000 per year.
“On my wish list, I would love to eventually hire a literacy coach and an interventionist for behavior,” Jackson said.
The board voted unanimously to close the two Kilmichael schools upon consolidation of the two districts on July 1. In addition, the board voted to post open positions – not including Jackson’s wish list positions – contingent upon if the districts consolidate on July 1 or if a federal judge grants Montgomery County School District’s request for an injunction to stop the consolidation.
In other business of the Winona Montgomery Consolidated School District, the board voted to form an advisory council, which was suggested by representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice who recently toured the county’s schools.
Meeting with leaders from both Winona and Montgomery County school districts, representatives from the Department of Justice recommended the creation of an advisor board – made up of a facilitator and 14 members – to advise Jackson in academics, extra-curricular activities, culture and community issues, and school improvements. The board will also assist the district in solving transportation problems, discipline concerns, and health issues.
Board President Mark Middleton informed the large group of spectators that if anyone was interested in serving on the advisory board, applications were available at the district office located on Fairground Street in Winona.
As the board took comments and questions from those present at the meeting, Blair Caldwell, a concerned citizen of Montgomery County, asked the board if it planned to open the open positions first for employees of the Montgomery County School District who recently were informed that employment contracts with Montgomery County School District would not be renewed due to the consolidation.
“We have hiring procedures,” Jackson said. “The jobs will be posted on our website, and they can apply online.”
Amy Gammel, school nurse at Winona Elementary School, asked the board how senior rankings would be configured after the consolidation. Jackson said she was still researching that matter and would provide that information at a later date.
The board adjourned until May 8 at 7 p.m. in the Winona Elementary School library. Meetings of the Winona Separate School Board and the Montgomery County School Board will meet at 6 p.m.