Parents air concerns about moving arts school at forum

Published 6:00 am Friday, January 22, 2010

McComb’s Brenda Haskins is ready to send her 16-year-old to theMississippi School of the Arts in 2010, but under onecondition:

It has to be in Brookhaven.

Haskins expressed her view on legislative attempts to move MSAnorth to Columbus Thursday night during a small, informal questionand answer session for the parents of prospective students. She wasmost impressed with the school, but when asked how she wouldapproach enrollment if the Legislature merges it with theMississippi School for Mathematics and Science on the campus of theMississippi University for Women, the deal closed down.

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“I would not send her up there. It wouldn’t be an option,”Haskins said.

Haskins provided a number of reasons why she thinks House Bill599 – House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown’s vehicle forclosing MSA in Brookhaven and shipping it 200 miles north, meant tosave state funds by consolidation – is a bad idea.

As a citizen of McComb, she feels Southwest Mississippi shouldhave its due. As a taxpayer, she thinks the state should make goodon its $25 million investment at the old Whitworth campus and leavethe school alone. As a mother, she wants her teenager to stay ateenager.

“I’m just not ready to send my daughter into a collegeenvironment,” Haskins said. “She’ll be at Ole Miss for four years.She’s got plenty of time for college later.”

Fear of prematurely exposing high school students to a collegeenvironment is a leading fear among prospective parents when theidea of moving MSA to MUW is considered, and such would likely bethe only option if the move were approved.

MSA’s sister math and science school does not have thefacilities to accommodate the five arts disciplines in which MSAstudents major, and arts students would likely have to go on theMUW campus to use such facilities.

“That’s not beneficial at all,” said Brookhaven’s MajeedahSharrieff, who has a grandson looking to enroll at MSA next year.”He would be exposed to stuff much older than he is. Let him be ahigh school student while he can. He’ll have plenty of time forcollege things later.”

MSA student Jules Wood, a 17-year-old senior from Ridgeland,said the well-developed atmosphere of her school would be destroyedif it were moved to Columbus. Moving the school would place Woodand her 125 classmates on a campus of 2,400 college students.

“One of the draws is this is a family community, a verynurturing environment,” she said. “I think we would lose that if wewent to Columbus.”

Cierra Hodo, a 17-year-old senior from West Point, recalled herfeelings in 2009 when similar legislation to move MSA wasintroduced. At first she was behind the bill, considering the billwould have made her senior year take place about 15 minutes fromhome. But knowing the MUW campus and having friends attending MSMS,her opinion changed.

“I would rather drive three hours and 15 minutes to come to thisschool than drive 15 minutes to Columbus. I’ve developed arelationship with this campus,” Hodo said.

Every mother and every student has an opinion on MSA’s future,but that isn’t necessarily a good thing, said MSA Director SuzanneHirsch. The uncertainty could hurt recruiting and enrollment, shesaid, and the whole legislative ordeal breaks students’ focus.

“You wish you could focus 100 percent of your energy on thebusiness of the school,” Hirsch said. “The parents are nervous.Wouldn’t you be if your child was recruited here?”