An ingenious bid to force improvements in Mississippi schools

By | July 14, 2017

“I went to these trailers when I was in kindergarten,” says Dorothy Haymer of her six-year-old daughter’s temporary-but-permanent classroom at Webster Elementary school in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Some of the main building’s windows are cracked; the guttering is broken. Ms Haymer says parents are required to donate paper towels and soap for the lavatories. Art and music lessons are not available, she laments: “They don’t really have the resources to teach the kids.” There is a high turnover of staff (the principal left this summer). Still, because Ms Haymer has no choice, her son will join the school next year. “It’s just terrible,” she says.

Yazoo City, on the edge of the Mississippi Delta, is graced by magnolias, wisteria and a pastel-painted high street that bespeaks genteel decline. It is predominantly black, but Webster Elementary is almost completely so: 97% of its pupils, including Ms Haymer’s daughter, are African-American. They are almost all poor: 99% receive subsidised lunches. The white people have their own school, Ms Haymer says matter-of-factly, referring to a private Christian academy on the outskirts of town. The school system was integrated peacefully (if belatedly) in 1970; but, as Willie Morris, a local author, records in “Yazoo”, the children were more enthusiastic than their parents, and the graft didn’t take. Today Webster lies near the bottom of state rankings in reading and maths. (The Economist)

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