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Oxford superintendent: ‘We are not going to have a separate school’

Community members gathered at Oxford Middle School Thursday night to protest  reports that the district is considering building a separate “opt-in” school designed for students who live in poverty.

Superintendent Brian Harvey addressed the crowd, assuring them the district is only in the research phase of how to mend what he calls the “achievement gap” in Oxford schools, using other schools and cities as examples. He also took the opportunity to state on the record that there would be no separate school for students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

The peaceful protest capped off a day of disbelief within the community and beyond after the student newspaper first reported the district could be considering a separate school.

In an interview with the EAGLE Thursday afternoon, Harvey said the district has been looking at a model developed by Achievable Dreams Schools in Virginia, a program promoted as an innovative, community-centered way to give children growing up in poverty a specialized academic, social and moral education.

The curriculum model – whether carried out in a separate school or implemented within a school district – is what the district is interested in investigating, Harvey said, particularly considering Achievable Dreams touts a 100% graduation rate.

The problem many community members have, however, is not necessarily with the idea of improving educational standards in the district, but the implications of dividing it by socioeconomic lines, even as an opt-in program.

With around 47 percent of the district qualifying for free or reduced lunch, Harvey argues this is an issue defined by poverty, not race.

However, considering an estimated 24 percent of black families in Lafayette County live below the poverty level compared to 11 percent of white families, the possibility for a disproportionate school population is difficult to ignore. Especially in Mississippi, a state that continues to struggle with issues of desegregation.

Harvey said Thursday afternoon the district will continue exploring all options for closing the achievement gap. Implementation, once a decision is made, will likely take years to develop.