After bond referendum, court battles over tax dollars, multi-million dollar high school opens for Mississippi school district

Published 6:31 am Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Monday was a day of triumph for Bulldog Nation.

Not because they scored the winning touchdown, but rather, Natchez Adams School District celebrated the historic milestone of opening a brand-new, multi-million-dollar high school.

As many officials recalled, getting to this achievement was no easy task. It would take years of hard work and overcoming adversity.

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Judge Vincent Davis, who serves as the Chancery Court Judge, quoted a 2016 article in The Democrat where then Interim Superintendent Fred Butcher stated, “In an ideal world, he’d like to build a new high school in the bean field next door to the current school. Once the school is completed, he’d then like to renovate Natchez High School and move the middle school to that location.”

“This must be an ideal world after all,” Davis said. “What you spoke into existence seven years ago has actually happened.”

All who helped achieve the vision were invited to Monday’s Grand Opening Ceremony, including local and state elected officials and the area’s new United States Congressman Bennie Thompson, first elected to serve in 1993 but now represents Adams County in Mississippi’s Second Congressional District after 2022 redistricting.

“Now you have bragging rights that you have the best facility money can buy for your children and that’s something to be proud of,” Thompson said. “As important is the struggle that got you here. There were some folks who didn’t want it to happen and there were others who wanted it to happen. I’m so glad that the ‘wanted it to happen’ folks won out.”

Eric Jackson, past principal of Natchez High School, said Monday’s ribbon cutting is a modern-day “Brown v. Board of Education” for NASD.

“Today’s ribbon cutting, the opening of a new Natchez High School, in so many regards, can be considered just as Olivia Brown’s father fought for the integration of schools. We canvased for a bond referendum. We had an election. We battled in court over our tax dollars to get to this day,” Jackson said. “Although Brown, in theory, opened schools in order for states to provide adequate resources and facilities for children of color, it was far from equal and the fight continues to this day.”

Jackson said there continues to be a gap where public schools are inadequately funded and some schools in Mississippi and Alabama appear as though Brown v. Board of Education never happened.

He added the NASD Board of Trustees, educators, students and the community fought for facilities where students no longer had to change classes on an open campus while “being chased by skunks” or “inviting a threat to happen.”

They needed to invest in facilities that kept their students warm, dry and safe during class transitions with modern restrooms and “the technological infrastructure that will enable every student and every teacher to use the internet at the same time,” Jackson said.

Kareem West, the son of NASD vice president and former mayor Phillip West, compared the opening of the new school to a second unifying of the district. Kareem West graduated high school in 1990. In 1989, two schools became one. The divided North and South Natchez high schools were consolidated after a court order was handed down in federal court to integrate the Natchez-Adams School District.

“We’ve had lots of growing pains,” Kareem West said. “We learned how to be one team with one goal and one community. It was not easy. As a matter of fact, it was extremely difficult. … But all of that pain, suffering and hardship led us to this point. At the end of the day, nothing worth having is not going to be worth working for.”

Interim Superintendent Zandra McDonald-Green thanked those who maintained their commitment to the vision of a new high school, “even when the waters were high and the storm was fierce.”

“Having a vision oftentimes leads you into troubled waters, but we have to remember the vision is not given to everyone,” she said. “The vision is often given to select people at a specified time that other people can’t see. Who would have ever imagined that in the bean field, there was a school. Not just any school, but a multi-million-dollar school. … Thank you for remaining dedicated to the vision that you all had for our children and our community.”

Green clarified NASD is not in competition with any private school, parochial school or the new charter school but is a partner in educating Natchez-Adams County’s students to be competitive on a local, state and national level.

“This new facility is a testament of a continued commitment to educate not some children but every child that enters the door,” she said. “We all must be partners in this process to educate our children. … Was there a fight? Yes, there was. But today, the fight is over. The building is here. Now we should have a renewed focus to move forward as one team with one vision and one goal.”