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Tupelo Schools' District of Innovation application moves forward, school board will vote next month

TUPELO • The Tupelo Public School District Board of Trustees is working to finalize its application for designation as a District of Innovation as the December deadline approaches.

Stewart Brevard McMillan, who was hired in 2018 as the innovation program facilitator for the district, presented board members with copies of the application at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The board will read over the application and vote on whether to approve it on Nov. 5.

The application was initially due on Nov. 1 but the date has been extended to Dec. 3, McMillan said.

The legislation allowing District of Innovation designations was passed by the Mississippi State Senate in 2015. The statute allows for five districts to be approved per year. There are currently seven, including Oxford School District and Corinth School District.

The primary benefit of the District of Innovation designation is waivers schools can receive that allow for more autonomy. TPSD is requesting five waivers that will support existing programs for students.

The first waiver would allow special education students participating in Project SEARCH, a partnership with the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and North Mississippi Health Services, to be counted in the yearly graduation rate.

There are currently eight students with severe significant cognitive disability who go to North Mississippi Medical Center and take a class focused on employability and job skills. Those students will complete three internships with the hospital with the long-term goal of being offered a job or finding one elsewhere.

The second waiver will expand the course options for students in the middle college program who take dual-credit classes that count towards graduation and an associate degree.

There are currently 11 students in the program on the Associate of Arts track. There are also plans in place to create an Associate of Applied Science track for students who want to go straight to work after high school instead of pursuing a four-year degree.

The third waiver would allow someone like a retired teacher or business leader without an active teaching license to teach a college and career readiness course that all students, beginning with this year’s sophomores, will be required to complete.

The fourth waiver is related to Project Lead The Way, which is a program allowing students to pursue engineering, biomedical science and computer science tracks. At the middle school level, courses last for one semester and at the high school level, they last for a year.

The waiver would allow middle school students to pair semester-long courses to count as a Carnegie unit towards graduation, so they can earn high school credit during middle school.

The fifth and last waiver would create a targeted program for English learner newcomers who have zero to three years experience with English. There are currently specific requirements related to seat-time and requirements for content areas at the elementary level, but the waiver would allow for a two-hour extensive block to help students get an English level base to help them succeed in other classes.

“Our goal is to make sure all students are college and career ready and the way our application is set up, we’ve created cohorts by grade band,” McMillan said.

Pre-K through fifth grade will focus on foundational skills and career opportunities. Sixth through eighth grade will focus on career exploration. High school will focus on career enhancement, as students will have some idea of their strengths and potential career opportunities.

TPSD Superintendent Dr. Rob Picou said the entire application is focused on the board’s goal “to create a college and career ready vision for our school district.”

“It will provide greater flexibility for teachers, principals and district support staff to design innovative programs,” Picou said. “It’s been a collaborative process and we’re really excited about the prospects of becoming a District of Innovation.”

McMillan said she had received 173 letters of support for TPSD’s pursuit of the District of Innovation designation as of Tuesday. They will be included in the final application submitted to the Mississippi Department of Education.

Those letters were submitted by TPSD staff members, principals and teachers from schools across the district and community members, including Mayor Jason Shelton.

Letters of support will be accepted through Nov. 1, and McMillan joked with the board that she’d like to have to take the application to Jackson in a wheelbarrow due to an overwhelming number of letters.

Multi-agency Golden Triangle crime initiative arrests 149

WEST POINT • A joint federal, state and local law enforcement initiative recently led to the arrest of 149 people on a variety of felony charges, including violent crimes, drug crimes and gang-related activities.

Operation Triple Beam, led by the U.S. Marshals Service, kicked off in the Golden Triangle area on July 15 and ran through the end of August. In addition to the arrests, 70 illegal firearms were seized as was $65,820 worth of narcotics and narcotics-related proceeds, according to U.S. Marshals task force deputy commander Mike Quarles.

“It took six weeks to round up everyone and make the arrests,” Quarles said. “But it usually takes three times as long on the front end to gather all the information.

“And because this is an intelligence-based operation, there is still a lot more to be done and there will be more arrests based on the intelligence we have already gathered.”

The operation used a tried and true method of bringing a host of agencies together to combine not only resources but also information.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar. “We work with the local agencies to combat crime in ways that work in their city, instead of trying to use a one size fits all approach.

“We targeted the worst offenders in each area and feel there will be a substantial decrease in crime by taking these people off the streets.”

Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott has already seen that effect.

“We’ve seen a decrease in crime overall,” Scott said. “When (criminals) saw something was going on, they went underground. But using information we have learned, we will be able to make more arrests.

“I learned early on the need to work with other agencies whenever you can.”

Operation Triple Beam enlisted the services of several federal and state agencies, along with the sheriff’s offices in Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties; and the Columbus, Starkville and West Point police departments.

The operation targeted violent fugitives, violent gang activity, and collecting intelligence to allow for additional arrests in the future. As a part of the initiative, nearly 50 gang members were arrested or validated by law enforcement. In addition, 155 registered sex offenders living in northeast Mississippi and the Golden Triangle area were checked for compliance with sex offender registration requirements. Compliance checks were also conducted on eight moderate and high-risk federal and state probationers.

Because the arrests deal with both state and federal charges, the cases will have to be tried in different courts.

“One of the things we had to do was coordinate our efforts with District Attorney Scott Colom,” said Danny McKittrick, U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Mississippi. “Most of the cases will be handled by the state, in the 16th judicial district. The firearms cases will be heard in federal court.”

Lamar thanked the many law enforcement agencies who participated and praised the results.

“By running operations like Operation Triple Beam that rely on partnerships, intelligence-driven data and targeted enforcement, we can and will make our neighborhoods safer for all citizens,” Lamar said.

In 2018, Operation Triple Beam focused on 13 counties in northeast Mississippi. That month-long operation resulted in 250 arrests, the seizure of more than $50,000 worth of narcotics, $50,565 cash, 76 firearms, as well as the recovery of 11 stolen vehicles.

UM faculty senate demands answers from IHL, student protesters want more action

OXFORD • The Senate of the Faculty at the University of Mississippi passed a resolution on Tuesday night to demand a timeline of events from the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning explaining how the state college board ultimately named Glenn Boyce as the next chancellor of Ole Miss.

IHL is asked to “provide a complete accounting, including a detailed timeline of all actions taken by the IHL and any groups or individuals working with the IHL on the recently completed search for the next chancellor of the University of Mississippi.”

The resolution also asks for information related to Boyce’s participation in the search process.

Boyce worked for the IHL board as the commissioner of higher education from 2015 to 2018. After Jeffrey Vitter resigned as chancellor in November 2018, the position of chancellor became vacant.

IHL officials have said that Boyce was paid approximately $87,000 as a consultant in the early stages of the chancellor search to meet with university constituents to map out what type of candidate people were looking for in the next chancellor.

Ultimately Boyce, who never applied for the position, was selected as chancellor last Friday. The decision sparked protests on campus, including a march on Tuesday night.

Around 30 protesters gathered in the Grove an hour before the meeting to make signs, followed by a silent march to the faculty senate meeting in the Thad Cochran Research Center.

Protesters sat behind faculty and held signs reading phrases like “Abolish IHL” and “no confidence.”

Olivia Hawkins, a senior political science and biology major, said protests came together quickly but she thinks establishing a consistent voice of opposition against the IHL will take time.

“For some facets of it, it may be a slower process getting different bodies to issue votes of no confidence and condemnations of Glenn Boyce and the IHL, but that’s our goal in the end – to get a unified front on campus against what the IHL is doing to our university,” Hawkins said.

Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor, addressed the chancellor controversy briefly before the senate.

“Our scholars, students and supporters will debate the process and how the decision was made,” Wilkin said. “That is not my role. The governing board has the authority to make this decision, they were the search committee and this was their decision to make.”

Wilkin added that he worked with Boyce during his tenure as commissioner and said he believes he has the ability to successfully lead the university.

Faculty senate secretary Brice Noonan proposed the resolution which was amended several times throughout the meeting to address the precise language used. The final version passed by a vote of 44 to 2.

Zachary Kagan Guthrie, an associate history professor, proposed adding an amendment reading, “Therefore, be it further resolved that the faculty senate votes no confidence in the IHL and Chancellor Boyce.” The senate voted against the amendment with a vote of 1 to 42.

Cam Calish, lead organizer for UM Solidarity, said what happened at the meeting “wasn’t that far from what we expected to happen,” but is hopeful that more will be done at a future meeting of the faculty senate.

IHL will be asked to submit the timeline by 5 p.m. Oct. 15 for the faculty senate’s consideration.

The faculty senate discussed holding an “extraordinary meeting” following the IHL’s response or lack thereof, to discuss any action the senate may take after IHL’s response, but did not set an official date for the potential meeting.