By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – David Cole encouraged Lee County School District teachers to remember the underdogs.
The former president of Itawamba Community College was the keynote speaker on Thursday at the district’s welcome back ceremony. Teachers and staff members met at Tupelo’s Furniture Market as they returned to work. Classes in Lee County begin Wednesday.
The meeting also featured remarks by Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks, who noted that test scores improved last year.
Cole, who joked it was the first time he had worn a tie since retiring at the end of June, told the educators about the importance of “the Biblical gift of discernment.” That means understanding the difficult circumstances of some students’ home lives and giving them the extra care they need to be successful, he said.
“Teachers work hard every day, and it is important to have the discernment to be able to understand every student’s conditions so you can meet their needs,” he said.
Cole noted that 51 percent of Mississippi children live in single-parent households and that 33 percent live in poverty.
“We have to overcome a lot of issues, and our state has to overcome a lot of issues to be successful in our schools,” he said. “That is why I chose discernment, so we can think smarter and be better.”
His words resonated with Saltillo Elementary art teacher Cindy Parker.
“You need to make sure you get to the root of where students are coming from so you can be the best teacher you can be,” she said. “You need to treat all kids the same, but fair is not always equal. Some children will need more.”
Meanwhile, Weeks told the educators that the district had improved its Quality of Distribution Index and that the QDI rose for nearly all of its schools.
The QDI is determined according to a formula based upon how students score on state tests. Weeks did not provide specific details about the district’s scores, noting they will be publicly released Sept. 13.
“We still have areas we need to improve, and we know that, but we have some successes to celebrate, and we are going to celebrate those,” Weeks said.
This is the second year the school district opened its year by having all of its teachers meet together in one location.
“When you begin a new school year, it is an important day and to have an opening exercise like this signifies the importance of the school year,” he said.
Angie Engle, a special education assistant teacher at Saltillo Elementary, said she was eager to get back to work.
“This is the big kickoff,” she said. “I’m ready for school to start.”