- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science is scaling back enrollment because of a tight budget.

The public boarding school for academically gifted high school juniors and seniors is on the campus of Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. It enrolled 271 students in the 2011-12 year. That will decrease to 238 for the coming year, said MSMS spokesman Wade Leonard.

Without more money, school officials said enrollment is expected to reach its lowest level of 220 students by 2017-18.

MSMS has operated with a level budget of $4.5 million the past two years, according to the state Department of Education.

The school’s executive director, Germain McConnell, said that despite MSMS being spared from cuts, leaders have had to support the general budget by withdrawing from a plant fund that’s earmarked for capital improvements and emergencies.

At least $1.5 million is needed to restore full enrollment capacity, McConnell said. He said the money also would go toward distance-learning initiatives.

McConnell said he would like to make computer programming mandatory, but the school is unable to hire another instructor. An engineering position was also cut. The school has partnered with Mississippi State University to fill two engineering courses.

Ericka M. Wheeler, the first African-American woman from Mississippi to be named a Rhodes Scholar, views the school as a gateway to success for disadvantaged students.

“MSMS was one of the first lights outside of my family that shined over the pathway to greater possibilities that had been in the shadows during my time in rural Mississippi,” the Carrollton native wrote to The Clarion-Ledger (https://on.thec-l.com/1TZDSl0 ).

Wheeler attended Greenwood High School two years before transferring to MSMS. She graduated this spring from Millsaps College and she plans to attend medical school after studying in England.

“MSMS had dedicated itself to providing this to the best of its ability, and I hope that it can continue to thrive, shine lights and provide opportunities to many more Mississippi children,” Wheeler said.

Changing the trajectory for students like Wheeler, who grew up in a Delta town divided by race, is at the core of why MSMS was established in 1987.

Cindy Henderson of the MSMS Foundation said white females who attend MSMS are almost twice as likely to go into a science, technology, mathematics or engineering career, black females about 25 times more likely and black males about 10 times more likely when compared to the U.S. Census Bureau figures of people in those fields.

The 113 members of the MSMS class of 2016 were offered more than $21 million in scholarships with an average ACT score of 28.5, nearly 10 points higher than the state’s average ACT score of 19. Sixty percent of the graduates will attend college in Mississippi, while 40 percent will enroll in out-of-state schools, including Boston College, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Students are eligible to apply their sophomore year of high school with an expected 300 applications submitted each year, Leonard said.

“Right now, we have an acceptance rate right at 50 percent,” McConnell said. “Three or four years ago, those on the alternate list could have easily gotten into the school.”

Historically, at least a third of the school’s student body has qualified for reduced or free lunches. McConnell expressed concerns about wait-list applicants from lower-performing and high-poverty districts with limited academic offerings.

“It’s really detrimental that some of them won’t have access to pre-calculus,” he said.

Hattiesburg native Chad Edmonson, a 1999 graduate, gave roughly $60,000 that allowed MSMS to accept three more students for 2016-17, while an additional $36,000 from the MSMS Foundation made it possible for a fourth student to attend. The foundation has also helped pay to replace or upgrade technology equipment.

Edmonson said as a sophomore he had already taken most junior and senior classes at Forrest County Agricultural High School before transferring to MSMS. He graduated from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and worked on Wall Street before returning to Mississippi last year.


Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

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