MSU grad to lead U.S. Forest Service

STARKVILLE, Miss.— Tony Tooke, a 1983 graduate of Mississippi State University, will lead the U.S. Forest Service, the national agency responsible for the management and protection of 154 national forests throughout the nation. A Detroit, Ala., native, Tooke’s career with the U.S. Forest Service began when he was 18. He most recently served as regional forester for the Southern Region of the USDA Forest Service. He has also served as associate deputy chief for the National Forest System, director of ecosystem management coordination, deputy director of economic recovery and assistant director of forest management. “The Forest Service will be in good hands with the agency’s own Tony Tooke, whose forestry knowledge is unmatched,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Kindergarteners make bigger gains on literacy test

Kindergarteners in the 2016-2017 school year made greater gains on the STAR Early Literacy exam than kindergarteners in the prior year, the Mississippi Department of Education announced. Close to 37,000 kindergarteners took the test in both the fall and spring. The state average score for the fall test was 502 compared to 710 on the spring test. In 2015-2016, the score for the fall test was 502 compared to 703 in the spring. “Mississippi kindergarten teachers are continuing to do a great job helping students build the foundational literacy skills they need to be successful throughout their education,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education.

Lee County sheriff releasing nonviolent inmates to address overcrowding at jail

Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson began releasing nonviolent offenders from the Lee County Jail Monday afternoon after supervisors voted to not expand the jail, the Daily Journal reported. Johnson said he will also limit the number of inmates he accepts to the 20-year-old jail. Before Johnson began releasing prisoners, the 202-person capacity jail housed 231 prisoners. After the vote, Johnson reduced the number to 203 by releasing many on time-served or by transferring prisoners to state custody. Others were released with a signature bond to assure a court appearance.

Millsaps one of 10 colleges chosen for racial healing program

Millsaps College has been selected as one of 10 sites for the first Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Centers by the Association of American Colleges & Universities. “The selection of Millsaps to serve as one of the inaugural Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Centers further supports our role as a leader in matters of justice and equality,” Dr. Robert W. Pearigen, president of Millsaps College, said in a press release. “Given the recent tragic events in Charlottesville and the broader conversations occurring around issues of race, we find ourselves in a unique and hopeful position of being a place that will engage our campus and community in honest dialogue about difficult topics,” Pearigen said. In the press release, Millsaps officials noted their institution was chosen from more than 125 colleges and universities that applied for the program. The other institutions selected include Austin Community College (Texas), Brown University (Rhode Island), Duke University (North Carolina), Hamline University (Minnesota), Rutgers University (New Jersey), Spelman College (Georgia), The Citadel (South Carolina), University of Hawai’i, and University of Maryland Baltimore County.

West Nile claims two more victims

Two more Mississippians have died from West Nile Virus this year, bringing the total number of deaths in 2017 to three. The two deaths were in residents of Humphreys and Forrest counties, reported the Department of Health on Monday. The Department of Health also reported 12 new cases of the virus, bringing the state total to 36 this year. “This sadly serves as a reminder that the threat of West Nile virus should be taken very seriously,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said in a release last month. “While many people may be infected with West Nile and not show symptoms, in a small number of cases, the infection can cause very serious complications, even death.”

In 2017, cases have been reported in Bolivar, Clay, Covington, Forrest, Hinds, Humphreys, Jones, Leake, Leflore, Lincoln, Lowndes, Madison, Noxubee, Perry, Rankin, Scott, and Wilkinson counties.

ICE raids of Asian restaurants result in guilty pleas, deportation

Eleven people who were arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in the Jackson and Meridian areas Feb. 22 are pleading guilty to violating the federal Re-entry of Deported or Removed Alien Act, Mississippi Business Journal reports. They are among 55 foreign nationals who were arrested by ICE agents who made surprise raids on eight Asian restaurants. The others were sent to the ICE Detention Facility in Jena, La., and then deported   because they had not previously been formally ordered to leave the United States, Jackson lawyer Carlos Tanner told the publication. Tanner is the court-appointed attorney for Marcelino Gregorio-Hernandez, who pleaded guilty.

IHL trustee Hooper heads Valley’s presidential search

Institutes of Higher Learning board trustee Shane Hooper of Tupelo will lead the committee seeking a new president for Mississippi Valley State University. Board president C.D. Smith made the announcement Thursday. All board trustees will serve as members of the search committee. “I look forward to leading the search for the next president of Mississippi Valley State University,” said Hooper. “I look forward to hearing from the Valley family about their thoughts on the future of the university.”

Freedom Trail marker notes 1961 Jackson Library sit-in

A Mississippi Freedom Trail marker memorializing the 1961 Jackson Municipal Library Sit-In was dedicated Thursday in Jackson, Mississippi Development Authority officials announced in a press release. The marker is the 25th on the trail. “The Mississippi Freedom Trail tells an important part of our story as a people,” Visit Mississippi Director Craig Ray said in the press release. “The courage shown by these college students in pursuit of their education and equal rights for all continues to inspire more than 50 years later.”
The press release gave the following recap of events that day:
“Nine Tougaloo College students entered Jackson Municipal Library on March 27, 1961, to research books unavailable at the segregated Carver Library. Soon afterward, police arrested Meredith Anding, Jr., James “Sammy” Bradford, Alfred Cook, Geraldine Edwards, Janice Jackson, Joseph Jackson, Jr., Albert Lassiter, Gloria Pierce and Ethel Sawyer on charges of breach of peace.”

Second company settles lawsuit filed by attorney general in Epps bribery case

A second lawsuit filed by Attorney General Jim Hood against a company involved in the bribery case of former Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps has been resolved. Global Tel*Link Corp. settled its case for $2.5 million, Hood said Tuesday. “I am pleased with Global Tel*Link for cooperating and quickly resolving this matter with the state’s taxpayers,” Hood said in a news release. “As a company that continues to contract with the state, Global Tel*Link quickly approached our office seeking settlement after the Epps scandal. Due to their cooperation, we have now resolved this matter.”
The attorney general filed 11 civil actions on Feb.

Judge wants more information in Franklin County schools desegregation case

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate said Thursday he needs more information before making a decision in the Franklin County School District’s request to be released from a nearly 50-year-old federal desegregation order. Although the hearing on the district’s petition concluded Thursday following testimony on behalf of the school district and from some residents opposed to the district’s request, Wingate announced from the bench that he wants the school district and the U.S. Justice Department to file additional information in three weeks. Testimony concluded Thursday with school board President Gloria Hayes Defending the district’s hiring practices and budget. School board attorney Lane Reed questioned Hayes, an African-American who attended Franklin County schools and has served on the board for 16 years. He asked whether the district discriminates on the basis of race in its hiring.

JPS extends contract with company despite grant error

Despite a missed deadline that resulted in a lost opportunity for federal grants, the Jackson Public School District will continue to work with a contractor they blamed for the mistake. No additional JPS funds will be spent. JPS was one of several districts that failed to apply for school improvement grants (SIG) earlier this year. Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray said the district intended to submit applications for three of its schools but missed the May 8 deadline. At the time, district spokesperson Sherwin Johnson told Mississippi Today that contractor Tri-K Group “made some late changes to the grant that led to the district missing the required deadline” but the district would continue working with them to submit future applications later this year.

Kemper-related mine expected to cut 75 jobs

Liberty Fuels Company, which runs Liberty Mine adjacent to Mississippi Power’s Kemper County energy facility, expects to lay off 75 employees at the mine in about two months. NACCO Industries, the head company that oversees Liberty Fuels Company’s parent North American Coal Co., announced the layoff in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing earlier this week. A notice was issued to the 75 employees on Aug. 4, the filing states. Under its contract with Mississippi Power, Liberty Fuels Company supplies the lignite coal meant to fuel the gasification portion at the Kemper County energy facility.

Testimony continues in Franklin County schools desegregation case

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate on Tuesday continued to hear testimony from individuals opposed to the federal government releasing the Franklin County School District from the court’s oversight. The hearing was set after the U.S. Department of Justice announced in June that it would no longer oppose the school district’s motion for declaration of unitary status — its push for the court to release it from federal oversight. Frank Jenkins, the African-American parent of children in the school district and a pastor at a local church, said his daughter was unfairly denied the title of valedictorian when she graduated in 2006. The honor was instead given to a white student, and his daughter was not given her salutatorian trophy until 2013 when an employee of the district found it in a trash can at the school and brought it to him to pass on to his daughter, Jenkins testified. “She still wears the scars of what happened to her in Franklin County School District,” Jenkins said of his daughter, who went on to graduate from the honors college at Ole Miss and with a graduate degree from Mississippi College.

Mississippi College president announces retirement

Mississippi College President Lee Royce will retire in May. Royce announced his plans to college trustees on Monday and later sent a message to faculty, staff and students. Royce has led the 5,200-student Baptist institution since 2002. He says his achievements include increasing enrollment, which was 3,200 students when he came to MC from Anderson University in South Carolina. He also cites boosting Mississippi College’s endowment from $36 million to $81 million.