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Education accountability subject of public meeting here next week

Improving accountability in education will be the focus of aseries of meetings around the state, beginning Sept. 5 inBrookhaven, as Public Education Forum and Parents for PublicSchools officials seek greater public awareness on a new stateplan.

The meetings will feature discussion of findings in a reportMississippians Say: Make Accountability Count and the role thatstudents, parents, education and business officials and thecommunity play in education and accountability.

“There’s a role for everybody,” said Susan Womack, executivedirector of the Jackson Parents for Public Schools chapter,Thursday during a stop in Brookhaven to prepare for next week’sevent.

The meeting will be Sept. 5 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in theBrookhaven High School Auditorium. Womack said Brookhaven SchoolDistrict Superintendent Dr. Sam Bounds and Lincoln CountySuperintendent of Education Perry Miller have been supportive ofthe effort and that all citizens in the city and county districtsare encouraged to attend the meeting.

“We’re extremely excited that Brookhaven was one of the chosensites and that citizens in our community will have the opportunityto learn and ask questions about the new accountability system,”said Bounds, adding that the total success of a student depends oncooperation between schools, parents, businesses and othercommunity organizations.

Jim Barksdale, former chief executive officer of Netscape, willbe the featured speaker for next Thursday’s event.

In an example of business involvement in school, Barksdale andhis wife, the former Sally McDonnell of Hazlehurst, donated $100million to create the Barksdale Reading Institute. The institutewas designed to improve dramatically the reading skills ofMississippi school children.

“He’s interested in launching a new campaign that goes beyondthe reading institute,” said Merrill McKewen, who is helping PPSand PEF officials plan the meetings.

Future meetings are scheduled for Sept. 9 in Jackson and Oct. 1in Meridian. Additional meetings will be Hattiesburg, Tupelo,Greenville and the Gulf Coast.

The latest round of public meetings follows earlier forumdiscussions in several communities around the state. The smallgroup meetings, which included input from Brookhaven and LincolnCounty participants, sought to raise awareness of the new stateaccountability plan, reviewed potential difficulties in planimplementation, and produced findings in the accountability reportthat will be discussed next week.

“Those meetings resulted in some clear answers that didn’t existbefore,” Womack said.

Mississippi’s accountability plan, created by the stateDepartment of Education based on regulations passed by thelegislature in 2001, has been rated sixth in the nation.

One aspect of the plan is benchmark testing for lower grades andsubject area testing in higher grades. Student graduation willdepend on their passing tests in Algebra I, Biology, World Historyand English II.

Womack praised the department for creating students tests thatare based on curriculum framework.

“We feel very positive about that,” Womack said.

Phillip Grady, president of the Brookhaven Parents for PublicSchools chapter, said accountability is a major factor in studentachievement. He said making sure students are properly prepared toenter the work force is very important with the opening of theNissan plant and other businesses and industries in the state.

“We have to have students who are prepared to enter those jobs,”Grady said.