EDITORIAL: Looking ahead

By NEMS Daily Journal

A week of rapidly unfolding events came to a climax Tuesday afternoon with the announcement that Tupelo Public Schools Superintendent Randy Shaver will step down from his post.
While details aren’t yet known, the TPSD Board of Trustees has authorized its president, Amy Heyer, to negotiate a release of Shaver from his contract. Heyer said Shaver had earlier indicated his desire to leave Tupelo.
While the pivotal event that accelerated Shaver’s departure was last week’s announcement that Tupelo High School Principal Lee Stratton would be reassigned to another position in the district, dissatisfaction with Shaver’s leadership had been brewing for some time. The City Council’s call for Shaver’s resignation on Monday – a rare overt involvement by city officials in the school system – was a reflexive reaction to the building public pressure.
Now that Shaver’s departure is certain, it’s time for Tupelo to take a collective deep breath and consider the lessons learned in all this – and what they mean for the future.
First, it is clear that Tupelo’s citizens are still very much engaged in and passionate about their public schools. There is still, as there always has been, a strong sense of community ownership of the schools, which is a necessary foundation for improvement.
What the citizens of Tupelo can’t allow to come out of this is a rejection of change-oriented leadership for the schools. A school system experiencing the downward academic trends that Tupelo has seen in recent years must change, and change is never easy. There will always be pushback.
But there must also be respectful listening as well as exceptional planning, communication and execution – both internally and externally – to make changes produce the desired results, and this is where the superintendent and school board have been most vulnerable to criticism. Clearly, the board in the future must take a more proactive role in ensuring that frontline educators, parents and the wider community understand and feel more a part of the changes they are being asked to embrace.
Finally, the idea that has emerged recently that somehow the school system is to blame for all of Tupelo’s problems in retaining and attracting residents is a vast and unfair oversimplification. City government, business and civic leaders and the media – including this newspaper – all share in the responsibility of allowing the city’s problems to fester too long without concerted, effective action. If this season of discontent in Tupelo produces a resolve to change that complacency, something good will have emerged.
In the meantime, Tupelo’s public schools remain the most important and valuable asset the community has. It’s time for Tupelo to reunite and recommit to the rejuvenation of its most essential institution.