District identifies dozens of homeless
students in need
2/24/17, Print & Online + Oxford Eagle
At the age of seven, Otto Puttman experienced anti-semitism in the highest form, was driven out of his home country, and began to prepare for the storm that was to come.
At age eleven, he was ripped from his family, friends, and community, and was forced into the midst of the deadliest genocide in human history.
At age fifteen, it was all over. But his story was far from complete.
Puttman is now a rare breed, and men like him are few and far between. He is a survivor of the Holocaust, and he is now telling his story for the first time.
Born into a relatively easygoing life in 1931, the Austrian native grew up a low class, hard working boy. But he, like many, was immune to the building political turmoil in the heart of Europe, and he managed his way through youth like any other kid his age.
“My life was fairly mundane,” Puttman said. “Nothing really outstanding. In terms of political significance, the only thing I can say really is that the people were nice. I never sensed any discrimination whatsoever. I never even noticed any, and I was a pretty astute kid. I noticed things.”
However, in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, Puttman’s very definition of an average life was shattered.
“They, the Nazis, the Germans, came in one morning without notice, without fanfare,” Puttman said. “The night before, they weren’t, and then the following morning, they were in control of Austria. I remember looking out the window and people were in the street cheering and celebrating, and I saw every window, except ours, obviously, had a Nazi flag out of it. At the time, I was seven and I just said, ‘What’s that?’ I knew it wasn’t our flag.”
While Jews across the country began to flee their homes, the Puttmans stayed put.
“My dad was an optimist,” Puttman said. “He thought none of it was going to amount a hill of beans. But then, within a few months, the writing was on the wall.”
America was his family’s first choice for escape, but after “literally missing the boat,” the panic began.
Due to his parents being native Hungarians, however, they were able to repatriate back to Hungary just in time.
“That’s how I wound up in Hungary,” Puttman said. “Then, life resumed. Hungary was, at that time, no different from Switzerland. It was a neutral country. They were not involved in any way with the Nazi movement. There was no sentiment one way or the other about the Nazi movement that was already pretty rampant in the West.”
But yet again, in 1942, Puttman was betrayed by his country when Hungary joined the Axis forces.
“Overnight, literally, they turned hostile,” Puttman said. “I could not, for the life of me, figure out what the hell was going on. And then to synopsize, it didn’t take me long to figure out what was going on. It was all based on political sentiment.”
The move by Hungary left Puttman bewildered, and in no time at all, he was a prisoner of war. Though he never spent time in a German concentration camp, he was held captive in the Budapest Ghetto, which he describes as a “concentration camp within a city.”
“They took away my brother. They took away my dad. My dad was in Auschwitz and my brother was in Bergen-Belsen,” Puttman said. “I was incarcerated in Budapest. They just simply cordoned off the section of the city, chased everybody out that was not to be incarcerated, and used that as a concentration camp for all intents and purposes.”
He spent ages eleven through fifteen incarcerated in the ghetto, and though memories have escaped him through the years, he will never forget his time during this period.
“There was no furniture,” Puttman said. “We just laid like cattle on the floor, like herring in a can, because they had to take a lot of people and jam them into this little quadrant.”
Though his freedom was eventually granted thanks to a Russian invasion in 1945, his time there will be long remembered and forever enshrined in world history, and his family loss will be memorialized for eternity.
“My brother came back,” Puttman said. “My father never did.”
During his tenure in Hungary, he and his family lived in a community of over 80 extended relatives.
Following the experience of war and the Holocaust, he was left with just a handful.
After his exoneration from Budapest, his remaining family members decided that moving on was the only option, and the American dream was still fresh in their minds. There was just one stop that they had to make.
Due to visa regulations at the time, the only country able to send refugees to America was Germany.
So their family packed up and headed to Germany in 1945, just months after the conclusion of the war, and waited five years for their visas to America.
“In order not to waste that time, I decided since my education was cut short, I always wanted to be a tradesmen,” Puttman said. “So I enrolled in cabinet making school and went for four years, completed it barely, because my visa was starting to come up.”
Finally, after a seemingly endless war, homes in three countries, and countless family lost, Puttman, his brother, and his mom arrived at Ellis Island on St. Patrick’s Day, in March of 1949.
After years of laboring, moving, and settling in the states, Puttman’s story finally brings him to Oxford.
When hurricanes drove him from Florida, some home searching and a “happy accident” brought him to Oxford, a town he calls “kismet.” While here, he has continued to live his dream making cabinets, furniture, art and more with his wife of 38 years, Annie Farrell.
“It’s been a very colorful journey,” Puttman said. “I have no regrets. I wouldn’t rather not have done any of it (sic). Even the most morbid parts of it, the parts that damned near killed me, but they didn’t. I’m living proof that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m 85 years old, and 85 is in the rear view mirror.”
He hopes that opening up for the first time will attach significance to his story and inspire at least one person to get something positive out of his long-lived venture.
“I’m not inclined to do these things,” Puttman said. “I want at least one person to say ‘Wow, here’s a guy who went through that and came out the other side okay,’ and I know, I’m damaged, I know that. Nobody has to tell me. But it’s a small price, for the life I’ve lived. I’ve had a wonderful life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
When looking back, he can remember the pitfalls and the blessings, but one memory rings true.
“It was a hell of a journey, I can tell you that,” Puttman said. “Hell of a journey.”
Community response over Charger article continues, school board convenes
9/30/16, Print & Online
Following an article published by The Charger, in which the superintendent discussed possible ways to combat the achievement gap, including a model that would create a separate school for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, members of the Oxford community reacted with a swift response.
After the article quickly gained national attention, heated opinions from all across the country began to surface on social media, and a crowd gathered to protest this model around 6:30 p.m. on the front lawn of Oxford Middle School.
Junior Jaquan Webb and senior Lydia Holland were two of many OHS students who came out to protest in response to the article.
“I came here because I feel like this proposal is a threat to me,” Webb said. “I get free and reduced lunch, but I also have a 3.5 GPA, and I high score on my ACT. They’re trying to railroad us.”
“Basically, we’re going to show them that we do have a voice,” Holland said. “We’re going to show them that this is going to be a real movement, and we’re going to show them that they can’t run us over because they have more money than us.”
As the protestors continued to arrive on the front lawn, school officials, including Superintendent Brian Harvey, were seen leaving Central Office-Bramlett. Around 7:30 p.m., Harvey addressed the protestors for the first time since the article broke earlier in the day.
“The first thing that I want to say is that we will not have a separate school for free and reduced lunch students,” Harvey said. “That’s not where this started. This started at the very heart to increase student achievement for all students.”
Harvey continued by explaining that, “We started a process in June, where we had a group from Virginia called the Urban Learning and Leadership Center. They made a presentation to our board, and where we are is just in the investigation stages of how we can improve education for all of our students.”
Harvey then fielded questions from the audience, where one protestor call for his [Harvey’s] immediate resignation.
OHS students had a variety of responses to the day’s events, but following the impromptu press conference, a group of students, self-named “The Black Chargers,” prepared a gathering for Friday morning at Oxford High School, that was attended by about 100 students.
Following the second straight day of response from the community and students, the Oxford School District Board of Trustees has set a Special Meeting today at noon to address “concerns stemming from the Charger newspaper article,” according to their notice.
12/12/16, Print & Online
In early November, two OHS students were involved in a one-car accident, landing both of them in the hospital for days and weeks, respectively.
A half-removed pancreas, a removed spleen, bruised kidney, bruised lung, broken femur, broken nose, black eye, and a sprained ankle were just some of the results to come, and that was just for one of the two students.
Seniors Tiara King and Taliyah Gross, both members of the OHS basketball and track teams, were recent victims of a car accident on CR 105 in Oxford, with King sustaining the aforementioned injuries, and Gross a broken femur.
“It was me and Taliyah,” King said. “We were leaving my house and going to a store, and we tried to dodge a car and we hit a tree right up the road.”
Both were severely dazed and injured, and most memories are spotty at best, according to the two, but Gross vaguely remembers the scene right after the crash.
“It’s hard to remember,” Gross said. “After the wreck, we both got out, and we didn’t know anything was broken. I fell down to the ground and I saw my left leg was bent so far over. I felt so much pain and I was hurt so bad. I remember seeing a lot of people, but not too much after that.”
The two were then airlifted to Memphis to await many procedures, and their friends and teammates back home immediately sprang into action to care for the injured.
“At first it was mostly shock,” senior Ragan Freeze said. “I was just in shock that it happened, especially because Tiara’s my best friend. When I found out they were being airlifted, I was devastated, because she was going through a lot, and I was one of the only ones that got to go back with her. I just saw her screaming and knew how much pain she was in, and I just wanted to switch places with her.”
As the two passed the days in the hospital, they felt comfort in the fact that they weren’t in it alone.
“I can recall they said we had three waiting rooms of people wanting to see us,” Gross said. “I was grateful to see that many people. It was a joyous thing.”
However, just before departure from the hospital, the two were dealt their most devastating news yet – doctors had declared that each of their athletic careers were over. The news rang home with both of the students, but they have each since declared to prove them wrong.
“It hurt me at first, but I guess God has different plans,” King said. “I do think I’ll be back. Maybe not this year, but I think there’s a chance.”
Gross, along with King, also has plans to get back on the track again.
No matter their futures in sports, both King and Gross know that they won’t be alone going forward.
“They’ve been with me through this whole process,” King said. “A lot of people that I didn’t know showed up and helped me. Many days I was tired in the hospital and trying to give up, but my friends and family helped me get through it.”
Students rally behind two involved in accident
10/20/16, Print & Online
OSD tops Mississippi rankings for first time ever, OHS not far behind
The annual Mississippi Department of Education Accountability Model was released today at noon, and Oxford School District has topped the rankings for the first time in history.
Oxford High School was not far behind on the list of individual high schools, coming in at seventh, up two spots from last year.
The model, which ranks every high school in Mississippi, uses test scores, graduation rates, and more to base their rankings on, and is a strong indicator in district and high school performance.
“We’re really excited to be number one in the state of Mississippi,” OHS principal Bradley Roberson said.
“Oxford is known for winning state championships in athletics and academic competitions, among other things, but this is a state championship that we can all be proud of as the Charger family. That goes for every student, parent, teacher and Oxford stakeholder in the community.”
The model uses a base system of averaging English, Math, US History, and Biology state test scores, as well as graduation rate, college and career readiness, and ‘acceleration’ – a category that measures participation and performance of students in AP and Dual Enrollment courses, into a point system out of 1,000 points.
While the district topped the rankings with a score of 745, Oxford High School fell in at seventh out of the 293 Mississippi high schools with a score of 792, falling behind only Lewisburg, Desoto Central, East Central, Ocean Springs, Long Beach, and Hernando.
Another accolade for Oxford High School is that their score is up 30 points from last year’s total of 762, which ranks fourth amongst all “A” schools in the state.
While the release is certainly good news for the Oxford School District, Roberson admits that all the work is not yet done.
“We’re excited, but we’re certainly not satisfied,” Roberson said. “We still have kids that are struggling and we need to find ways to meet their needs as well. Until all of those percentages are 100 in the accountability model, we still have work to do.”
An Oxford resident has been arrested Tuesday after arriving on Oxford High School grounds for allegedly meeting up with a minor for sexual purposes.
Donald Barker, 26, an Oxford resident originally from California, was immediately taken into custody by school resource officers and undercover police agents after arriving in the west parking lot on campus.
According to the Oxford Police Department, a concerned parent of the minor contacting Barker relayed the messages to a School Resource Officer at the high school, who proceeded to set up a “sting” operation in the school parking lot to nab the unwary Barker. Investigators believe that Barker was headed to the school to have sex with that minor.
Following the arrest, a search warrant was issued for Barker’s phone and residence, where a search of his computer showed a recorded video of a minor performing sexually explicit conduct.
According to three affidavits obtained by The Charger from the Lafayette County Justice Court, Barker, between the 28th and 30th of August 2016 and on the 3rd of September, “willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously promote prostitution by (1) knowingly or intentionally soliciting another person for the purpose of prostitution, (2) agreeing to receive money for soliciting or for attempting to solicit another person for the purpose of prostitution, (3) transporting a person to a place with knowledge or reasonable cause to know the purpose of such transporting is prostitution.”
The affidavits also cite that Barker did “posses a recording video of an actual child under the age of eighteen in sexually explicit conduct as defined by Section 97-5-33 Section of Mississippi Code Child Pornography” as well as “entice and persuade and advise a child to meet with Donald Barker for the purpose of engaging in sexually explicit conduct.”
According to his Facebook, Barker moved to Oxford in 2015, and began to work at Boure on the square, but he is no longer employed there.
Barker has been held at the Lafayette County Detention Center since Tuesday on a $250,000 bond.
This is an ongoing investigation, and according to the Oxford Police Department, additional charges against Barker are possible.
BREAKING: Oxford man arrested on OHS campus on allegations of prostitution, child pornography
Oxford High resource officers announced an arrest has been made in the events leading to the district lockdown last Friday. The accused is alleged to have sent threatening text messages to an assistant principal that forced the entire district into crisis mode for over two hours on Friday, and ultimately led to his arrest on Wednesday.
According to high school resource officers Harper Thomas and Mario Weekly, the suspect is a current OHS male student under the age of 18. Because the student is a minor, his name cannot be released. The charges that the suspect is facing could not be attained by The Charger, but “punishment varies depending on the situation,” and jail time is a “great possibility,” according to Weekly.
The suspect was released into his parents’ custody following the arrest, and is currently awaiting a hearing in youth court in the next 7-14 days. Local Judge David Bell is the presiding Referee over Youth Court in Lafayette County, but he was unable to comment on the nature of the hearing. Mississippi court records indicate that hearings usually fall on every second Thursday.
The student has been suspended from school, according to Superintendent Brian Harvey, and he now faces a disciplinary hearing following his legal battle. School due process states that the principal make a recommendation on his punishment before the hearing. Expulsion is the most severe disciplinary action the accused can receive.
Circumstances dictate that the accused must first appear in Youth Court, but if tried as an adult, he could face crimes of cyberstalking, as outlined in the Mississippi Code and detailed in Title 97-45-15, which reads:
“It is unlawful for a person to: (a) Use in electronic mail or electronic communication any words or language threatening to inflict bodily harm to any person… or physical injury to the property of any person.
If any of the following apply, the person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than five (5) years or a fine of not more than Ten Thousand Dollars ($ 10,000.00), or both.”
Oxford Citizen’s John Davis contributed to this story.
OHS student arrested in lockdown-causing threat
8/26/16, Print & Online
Graphic by Davis McCool
Photo by Davis McCool
Oxford resident, Holocaust survivor
speaks out for the first time
10/31/16, Print & Online
At least 93 children will go to sleep without a home of their own this year in the Oxford School District.
Homelessness among students in the district continues to be a pressing issue, and awareness remains low as needs remain high, even with many safeguards in place.
The federal definition of homelessness, or “those who lack a fixed, adequate and regular nighttime housing” applies to 93 current district students, according to Dr. SuzAnne Liddell, the Director of Federal Programs and Student Assessment for the district.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, which Liddell supervises for the district, is the federal law that “ensures immediate enrollment and educational stability for homeless children and youth.”
Many students find themselves splitting time between households, or even sharing residence with a friend or distant family member. This is a common occurrence among homeless students in the district, according to Principal Bradley Roberson.
“We do have kids that bounce around from one household to the next, and we have had a few instances over my 17 years where a kid has come to me and said, ‘Mr. Roberson, I don’t know where I’m going to sleep tonight’,” Roberson said.
One such student who finds herself in a similar affair, a female at OHS, has elected to speak out anonymously regarding her situation.
“My mom gave her rights away,” the student said. “She just gave me away, because she was a drug addict and she wouldn’t take care of me, and my dad is also an alcoholic and a drug addict so he couldn’t take care of me. My guardian was not doing her part. So I’ve been on my own basically, with a little help.”
At just the age of five, after the student’s grandmother passed away, she was adopted by her cousin, but was again forced out of the household due to bad living conditions. She was shuffled around for a couple of years, even living with her dad at times, but has now settled in with her sister, even though her cousin remains her legal guardian.
She rarely has nights where she does not know her final destination, but is still considered homeless by definition, and it has taken a toll on her, both mentally and financially.
“When I was in 6th grade, I was diagnosed with depression, so I had to go to these classes and they said I was depressed about my mother,” she said. “I didn’t see it, but they did.”
“My dad was ordered to pay child support,” she said. “I didn’t see any money. I was told that I was getting money, but I didn’t see any. My case worker that I had, she told me that I was supposed to be getting money from the government. I couldn’t do anything about it at the time.”
The student’s circumstances are not unusual among homeless children in the district, according to Liddell.
“Sharing housing or being doubled-up is most often the case with our homeless students,” Liddell said. “However, families who are doubled-up are not always in the same shared location for an extended period of time.”
The McKinney-Vento Act guarantees the right to education for homeless students, but also has measures in place to ensure that right.
“The Oxford School District applies for the Title X McKinney Vento grant each year,” Liddell said. The allocation is generally $25,000-$30,000 and is used to supplement the academic needs of students who are identified under the federal definition of homeless. Some of the services provided include after-school and in-school tutoring.”
Many community organizations are also around to help these students have access to food, clothes, and more, such as Lovepacks and More than a Meal, among many others, according to Liddell.
Even with several measures in place to protect these students, Roberson is wary of a lack of awareness regarding the issue of homelessness in an area such as Oxford.
“I certainly think that is an issue, just simply because of the socio-economic statuses of a lot of our students and our residents within our Oxford community,” Roberson said. “I do think that it goes unnoticed a good bit of the time, and we can’t become desensitized to that as a community.”
Both Roberson and Liddell (who also serves as the district liaison to homeless students) want to make it clear that if they can be of assistance in any way, their doors are always open.
“I think it starts off with awareness not to have on blinders and get caught in our little bubbles where everything is fine for us,” Roberson said. “There’s not a single person out there who doesn’t want to be loved.”