Renovations continue at Hattiesburg Rowan

By DAVID TISDALE,

A dedicated faculty and principal have moved the needle at Hattiesburg Public School District’s (HPSD) Grace Christian Elementary School, raising its Mississippi Department of Education rating from a D to a B-plus in three years, and the district’s Board of Directors took some time to praise the school’s achievements at its January regular board meeting.

At each meeting, the board spotlights one of the district’s schools, and several Grace Christian students were recognized for perfect scores in English language arts and mathematics testing from the previous school year, as well as Vanessa Lofton, Grace Christian’s principal.

“When I came in (as principal) I thought, ‘There’s no way this is a D school.’ We had dedicated teachers who worked hard, and no discipline problems with the students. We just needed to include more rigor, and our students have responded,” said Lofton, who is in her fourth year as principal of the school; she served as assistant principal at Grace Christian in 2004, her first year as an administrator. “It’s been an awesome experience, watching this turnaround.”

*Earlier this week, HPSD board members, administrators and local officials attended a ribbon cutting at Hattiesburg High School, located on Hutchinson Avenue, where work is underway to construct a new entrance to the school that will include a courtyard and classrooms for art and theater courses, as well as new administrative offices. The work is being funded with a portion of the $22 million from the voter-approved renewal in 2018 of ad valorem taxes that fund the district.

“From what we see of the architectural rendering of the project, it’s going to be a stellar enhancement of the school that the whole community can be proud of,” said Delores McNair, president of the HPSD Board of Trustees.

School officials also toured the newly remodeled Rowan Elementary School gymnasium, which served as the home of the historic Rowan High School basketball team and as a venue for many other community events for what was the city’s all-black high school during segregation. The facility includes a new floor and guard railings, as well as a refreshed red and gray color scheme, the school’s original colors from its founding in the early 1950s, when it first was Royal Street High School.

Other improvements slated for Rowan include new heating and cooling infrastructure, installment of new windows and remodeling of the teacher’s workroom and lounge, among others.

Stephanie Bourne Hoze, an alumna of the Rowan High School class of 1970 and a retired HPSD teacher and administrator, said she has fond memories of the gymnasium from when she was a student, including when it would be used not only for sports, but also the school’s junior and senior proms and community events.

“It’s just beautiful,” Hoze said of the remodeled facility. “When I was in school, Rowan was the center point of the community, so as a graduate, it’s very uplifting and rewarding to see what has been done, and how it will instill pride in the students attending there now, just as I know it does for its alumni. I’m very pleased.”