The Challenges and Successes of Clarksdale Schools: Superintendent Dennis Dupree, Sr.
Former football coach and Jackson native, Dennis Dupree, Sr., was appointed superintendent of the Clarksdale Municipal School District in 2007, so has been serving in the Clarksdale public education system for almost a decade now.
Superintendent Dupree has worn many hats, including as a teacher and principal for the Oxford and Columbus, Mississippi school systems. Having been raised in a single-parent household, Dupree confidently holds the view that children with single-parent upbringings are not prevented from excelling in school.
He oversees Booker T. Washington Elementary International Studies Magnet School, George H. Oliver Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School, Heidelberg Elementary S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Magnet School, Kirkpatrick Health and Medical Science Magnet School, Myrtle Hall IV Language Immersion Magnet School, Oakhurst Intermediate Academy, W. A. Higgins Middle School and J. W. Stampley 9th Grade Academy and Clarksdale High School as well as the school’s Carl Keen Career and Technical Center in Clarksdale.
In an interview conducted via e-mail, Dupree shared information on the current state of the Clarksdale Municipal School District.
Will you discuss the big challenges the Clarksdale Municipal School District has been facing lately?
Superintendent Dupree: Among our challenges are ensuring that we are able to show continuous improvement and growth from year to year in student performance. We are also challenged with finding ways to recruit and maintain highly qualified teachers. Having adequate funding is always a challenge because we have a low tax base that supports our schools. We are challenged by the difficulties we face in keeping aging schools and district facilities in good repair when the vast majority of the budget–nearly 80percent–must be spent for personnel (salaries and benefits) and other state-mandated items. That leaves only approximately 20 percent for discretionary spending. For the last several years, we have had the challenge of continuing to remain focused on educating our children to the best of our ability despite an ongoing state investigation into test cheating that was always focused on one school but that was implied or inferred to be at all schools in the district when that was not the case. Maintaining high employee morale and a continued focus of teaching children, despite what else may have been going on, was a challenge. Finally, it is a huge challenge to keep the focus on the children and what they need for the future to help them become successful, productive citizens. There are many distractions that could make districts lose focus.
What awards, successes and achievements have your schools recently experienced or earned?
Superintendent Dupree: Among our recent successes is the fact that our graduation rate continues to climb higher each year; we are now at 85.5 percent. Our district was awarded by PREPS (a research arm of Mississippi State University at the time) for being innovative and making a significant difference in our students’ performance despite the impact of high poverty. We were one of only five districts in the nation to be awarded the federal Race to the Top Grant. That grant allowed us to, among other things, provide teachers and students with their own individual technology devices (such as laptops, ipads, etc.) This is what is called a 1 to 1 Initiative. We could not have exposed our children to such equipment that can be used in day-to-day instruction without the grant. Also the grant has afforded us funds to offer extensive professional development for our instructional staff to help strengthen their skills. Our pre-kindergarten initiative has brought recognition, but more importantly it has given us the chance to reach the students we serve so much earlier.
What are your hopes for the Clarksdale schools?
Superintendent Dupree: In whatever job I have ever had, my goal is for me to leave the place in much better condition than I found it. From a physical plant standpoint we have made and continue to make positive changes during my tenure. We have acquired a transportation/maintenance facility that we did not have when I arrived. We have been able to construct using ARRA (stimulus money) a brand new Performing Arts Center on our middle school campus. We have built a brand new base/softball complex on our high school campus and we have done a number of renovations including ensuring we have ADA accessible restrooms and compliant lighting districtwide. We have added to our bus fleet so that we do not have very old buses transporting our children. We have shown unquestioned marked improvement in student performance at a number of our schools despite an ever-changing accountability process for rating schools. But we still have a ways to go to show the kind of improvement that I personally desire and the school board desires.
What are your future plans for the Clarksdale Municipal School District?
Superintendent Dupree: We have a Strategic Plan that outlines our goals across all areas of our operations that serves as our long range plan. Our strategic plan can be found on our website. It provides specific board-approved goals that I am leading our district toward accomplishing. My plans are, for as long as I am working, that I will do the things necessary to give my students and the employees of CMSD theirbest chance to reach their fullest potential. In my view that is done by offering strong, focused leadership, the necessary resources, and the financial and administrative support necessary for them to achieve what is expected.
Melody Darneice Dixon is in her early 20s and a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi. She is a graduate of the University of Mississippi who enjoys singing on the Praise and Worship team and in the choir at her church, St. Matthew Church of God in Christ in Lambert, Mississippi.