Head of the class
Knight, Little run for top school job
VETERAN SUPERINTENDENT David Little, a Democrat and the incumbent Lauderdale County school superintendent, sits with his wife, Sandra, in the stands as they watch homecoming activities Friday during halftime of Clarkdale High School football game against Mercy Cross. PHOTO BY PAULA MERRITT / THE MERIDIAN STAR
By Georgia E. Frye / staff writer
Sept. 21, 2003
Lauderdale County School Superintendent David Little and his opponent Joey Knight agree on at least one thing: The school superintendent is the most important local office on the November ballot.
Knight, principal of Southeast Lauderdale Elementary School for 14 years, agreed. Knight said that "Lauderdale County Schools is a big business. We are talking about our children."
Little and Knight will meet in the Nov. 4 general election. At stake is the chief executive of the Lauderdale County School District a position that pays $72,000 a year.
The school district includes four separate campuses: Southeast Lauderdale, Northeast Lauderdale, West Lauderdale and Clarkdale Attendance Center. This year, more that 6,000 students are enrolled in county schools.
Lauderdale County schools have experienced many successes in recent years.
Scores from the Mississippi Curriculum Test and the Terra Nova test, standardized achievement tests given to students, are the highest they have ever been. Terra Nova scores are above the national average.
Despite that, Knight said he believes the school district is ready for a change.
Knight said the district has what it takes to be the best in Mississippi, and he believes his proactive approach to leadership will steer the schools in that direction.
Knight said he has always dreamed of becoming superintendent, and he has a vision for what he would like to see accomplished in Lauderdale County schools.
Knight said he supports preschool classes on every campus, more parental support for schools, professional development for teachers during the summer and school nurses at every school.
Knight, however, did say how much his proposals would cost. He suggested cutting the school district budget to fund school nurses; he said other programs could be funded "if you want it bad enough."
Knight said he believes more can be done to interest parents in their child's education.
Knight also said he would like to conduct professional development for teachers during the summer months. Teachers now participate in professional development on Wednesday afternoons.
Knight said preschool programs also are important.
Knight also said he is concerned about large kindergarten classes. Knight said the average kindergarten class in the county has 23 children; exact figures were unavailable from the school district.
Asked how classroom size could be reduced, Knight said, "If you want it bad enough, you can figure it out."
But Little said the school district doesn't have enough money to fund a preschool class on every campus. Little did not estimate the cost of a countywide preschool program.
Little said being school superintendent has taught him to have thick skin because he is constantly subjected to criticism. He said he learned a lot from his dad, former Lauderdale County School Superintendent Douglas Little.
But even though David Little said he has to make hard decisions and has lost some friends, he added he believes he has done his best to help the county's school-age children.
Little offered no new proposals other than to say he plans to work with county schools and make sure they maintain or improve their accreditation levels. He also outlined what he has done the past eight years.
Little pointed to the success in statewide standardized tests and said the district has no schools rated by the state lower than Level 3, or "successful." One school, West Lauderdale, is rated Level 5, or "superior."
Little said he eliminated eight administrative positions in the district office in order to hire 28 additional teachers.
Little said Southeast Elementary School, where Knight serves as principal, got a new counselor and four new teachers within the past eight years. Of the teachers, two were funded by federal grants and two by the county all to reduce class size.
Little said Southeast also has two Success for All teachers "which brings the total of additional teachers at Southeast to seven."
He said the federal government has committed to increase funding every year to further reduce class size in the lower grades.
Little said parents in Lauderdale County already are involved in public schools and their children's education.