By NEMS Daily Journal
Superintendent Randy Shaver’s first year at the helm of the Tupelo Public School District has been an eventful period of change and innovation.
As is the case with any institutional change, some of it has been unsettling, but as Shaver has said, the school board didn’t hire him to be a caretaker of the status quo.
Tupelo continues to have many strengths as a school district, including strong community engagement and support. But to achieve its goal as a top-tier district against national and international competition, Tupelo must identify needed improvements and develop plans, personnel and systems to make those improvements happen.
Under Shaver’s leadership, the district has taken an admirably open and honest approach in this process. It’s not easy to have candid public discussions about weaknesses, but that’s what the administration and school board have done on issues ranging from the external curriculum audit to the school’s state accountability rating to school discipline.
It’s also not easy to introduce new instructional methods – even ones as exciting as the new initiative involving laptop computers for all students and teachers in the upper grades. It means new ways of doing things and the discomfort and anxiety that often accompany change.
But if change is introduced and managed effectively, with clear plans, goals and accountability for results, it can mean the difference between success and failure, between improvement and stagnation.
A key element in effective management of change is communication with all constituencies – students, teachers, parents, administrators and the wider community.
In his first year on the job Shaver has sought to enhance communication with the community. His ongoing series of public Qamp&A sessions, his frequent speaking engagements around town and the increased use of the district’s various communication tools are notable examples.
Most recently, Shaver and the board have underscored the value of community engagement with their announcement that the search for a new Tupelo High School principal will include a community advisory committee that will interview finalists and make a recommendation.
Tupelo High has seen three principals this year, in part a reflection of the difficulty inherent in managing change and simultaneously meeting community expectations. Opening the process of choosing a new THS principal beyond the usual decision-makers – just as was the case in the superintendent’s search that brought Shaver to Tupelo – is not the easiest course, but it helps solidify community engagement in achieving the district’s improvement goals.
Tupelo’s long, proud history of public education has entered a new era, and each of the school district’s constituencies must be fully involved to produce the best possible results.