BRIDGING THE GAP: Closing gap important for economy, individuals

By Chris Kieffer | NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Community leaders and education experts cite a variety of reasons why closing the achievement gap is important.
One is economics. The more students are educated, they say, the more they have the ability to earn higher-paying jobs and contribute to society. That means fewer people are dependent on community welfare programs.
“The biggest difference now is that our country doesn’t have as many good middle-class, high-paying jobs as it used to,” said New Albany School Superintendent Charles Garrett, a member of a committee formed by the CREATE Foundation to study the region’s achievement gap. “To compete, we need a higher percentage of our population to be able to do technical jobs, jobs requiring reading and math, than ever before. It has become a national emphasis.”
Claude Hartley, a former Tupelo school board member and current representative on the Mississippi Board of Education, said the issue is just as important for those who do not have children in schools.
“You should be interested in it if this is where you or your children plan to live because it has to do with the quality of the community, if everyone is provided high-quality education,” he said.
Then there are non-economic reasons. Bishop Clarence Parks of the Temple of Compassion and Deliverance in Tupelo said the gap tends to stifle the dreams of youth.
“If we could close the gap, the quality of living would increase and poverty would decrease,” he said.
Others say that aiming to provide quality education to all residents is the right thing to do.
“There is also the moral issue,” said Mike Walters, Tupelo’s superintendent from 1990 to 1995 and now head of an education consulting company. “Morally, we have got to do whatever we can do to provide the skills and the capacity for kids who come from poverty to raise themselves out of poverty.”
Diana Ezell, Tupelo’s deputy school superintendent, said the city and its schools are linked.
“We want all of our students to be successful,” she said. “It is so connected with the economy, and we can’t separate ourselves from the community. I think it is critical to have a well-educated citizenry so that people make better decisions and commit less crime, and it is a place where people want to come.”