Coahoma Early College High School began closing down late last week after a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) in Hinds County Chancery Court to keep the program going was dismissed July 22.
The MDE informed the CECHS board and superintendent Dr. Valmadge Towner in April that it would no longer provide funds directly to the school to continue its ongoing operations. The MDE informed CECHS that it would no longer exist as of July 1 unless it entered into funding agreements with the local school districts whose students were eligible to enroll in its Early College program.
The Quitman and Tunica county school districts signed the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would allow their students to attend CECHS. The Clarksdale Municipal and Coahoma County school districts did not.
This will prompt students who had intended to attend Aggie this fall to seek enrollment elsewhere.
The CECHS board filed a lawsuit on June 14 to keep the school operating for the 2021-22 academic year and beyond, but it was dismissed last week. The court ruled it could not require the CMSD and CCSD to enter into funding agreements with CECHS.
“It is with a heavy heart that I perform my duty, as the Superintendent of Coahoma Early College High School (CECHS), to notify the students, parents, faculty members, administrators, and other stakeholders associated with CECHS of that school’s immediate closure,” said Towner in a press release on Coahoma Community College’s website Saturday night.
“Representatives from MDE and the school districts testified at the hearing, and although CECHS disagreed with their positions, it was clear that their decision-making processes were honorable, that their opinions were sincerely-held, and that their top priority was to take actions which were in the best interests of the students.
“Students, parents, administrators, and members of CECHS’s Board of Trustees also appeared at the hearing to show their support for CECHS, to share their passion and enthusiasm for the school, and to convey their personal perspectives with regard to the unique character and special value of CECHS’s innovative dual-track program (which provided students with the opportunity to be awarded a high school diploma and a two- year associate degree, at the same time, upon the completion of the CECHS curriculum). The judge allowed the witnesses who testified upon CECHS’s behalf of CECHS to take as much time as they needed to inform the court of the issues and concerns that were on their minds.”
MDE chief academic officer Dr. Nathan Oakley explained some of the funding issues.
“We want the Early College High School (ECHS) model to succeed within the state, but we cannot distribute funds directly to the Coahoma Early College High School, given that its students are actually enrolled in their districts of residence, and accountability results are assigned to those districts rather than to the ECHS program,” Oakley said.
According to the MDE website, 110 students were enrolled at CECHS. The CMSD has 2,237 students enrolled and 631 of them are at the high school level. The CCSD has 1,121 students enrolled and 274 of them are at the high school level.
“Students enrolled in the CECHS program for the upcoming 2021-2022 academic year are encouraged to speak with parents, local educators, and local school administrators so that they can identify and pursue other high school enrollment opportunities,” said Towner in his press release.
The CECHS Facebook page reported transcripts could be picked up beginning Wednesday, July 28.
Clarksdale and County
CMSD superintendent Dr. Earl Joe Nelson and CCSD superintendent Dr. Ilean Richards did not know how CECHS’s closure would impact their enrollment and finances. They also said the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) dollars are a year behind and the funding would impact in the 2022-23 school year.
Nelson and Richards both said there would be opportunities for their students to participate in dual enrollment courses at Coahoma Community College.
“At this point, I can’t estimate how many kids it is,” Nelson said. “Once we get our enrollment, we’ll look at if we increased.
“We won’t see the immediate impact for dollars, but we will still offer dual enrollment for our students to go to Coahoma Community College. We pay for that out of Title funds and so that’ll still be in place for our students. We’re excited about it. That was a great program they had at Early College. We think it was a great program, but the budget restraints we have and due to COVID and just the tax base period right now, it just kind of makes us cautious to move forward with things that we do. We feel like from a funding standpoint, the knowledge we have now, where we are, it’s a really good place to be because we know now what we need to do. I am going to operate like the first amount that was told to me in this room to make sure that we secure our fund balance so we secure this district and be able to take care of all our employees and not have any reduction in staff or any layoffs. That’s very important to our area.”
While Richards did not have an exact number for how many more students will enroll in the CCSD, she did have a ballpark figure.
“We will have a slight increase of enrollment because we had, according to them, 40 students that lived in the County,” Richards said. “We know that we can get up to those 40. All 40 of them may not come.
“We won’t get anything for it this year. If they stay with us, they will do the December count. That’s when they tell us how much money we’re going to get.”
Richards and the CCSD board considered signing the MOU to enter into an agreement with CECHS, but it did not happen.
“That’s a board decision,” Richards said. “It never did come down to that.”
CCSD students will also have the opportunity for dual enrollment in career technical education (CTE).
“As a matter of fact, we’re basically and academically this year expanding it to CTE dual enrollment,” Richards said. “We have our own program now.”
The CCSD had students in the CTE program at the Carl Keen CTE Center in the CMSD. Now, Richards said Coahoma County High School has a wing for the program.
As CECHS’s students move to other schools, Towner expressed appreciation toward the faculty, staff and administration.
“Finally, I wish to express my personal gratitude to Principal Cloretha Jamison and to CECHS’s faculty, administration, and support staff for their hard work, persistence, and outstanding commitment to CECHS’s success,” Towner said. “They have been a blessing to CECHS’s students, and their positive spirit and inspiration will continue to shine a bright guiding light upon the paths of CECHS’s students for many years to come.”
Which school now
CECHS’s closure is not the only change that could impact the funding of the CMSD and CCSD. There is debate on whether or not some of the students in the CCSD will be enrolling in the CMSD in 2021-22.
Parts of Coahoma County were annexed into the city of Clarksdale in 2019. As a result, Nelson believes some of the students who lived in the CCSD now reside in the CMSD.
“The students that are living in the Clarksdale Municipal School District will be here at Clarksdale Municipal,” Nelson said. “We’re actually looking at enrollment as we are moving along. Unfortunately, sometimes those numbers, as we get closer to school, are higher. Due to the pandemic, we haven’t been full face-to-face. I’m sure that has a lot to do with some hesitation of coming and enrolling their students for this upcoming year. We’re hoping that our parents come on out and enroll our students because some of our schools of choice, where they want to go, those schools are going to fill up fast and so I would say if you’re going to get to the school of choice, you need to come on in and enroll your student today.
“We’re going to look at all the streets and areas that we’re taking in consideration for the annex and then we’re going to ask our neighbors to give us some numbers of any of those students that were in those particular streets.”
Richards has maintained the annexation will not cause the CCSD to lose any students.
“We aren’t even discussing that,” Richards said.