By NEMS Daily Journal
It should go without saying that the current search for a new superintendent for the Tupelo Public School District is one of the most important community undertakings in a long time.
The school system is at a crossroads. Academic performance issues and the need to re-establish community confidence and support are evident.
Tupelo’s schools still have many strengths, but the system is no longer in a position to rely on past accolades, which were numerous, and residual good will in the community. It must set and achieve new and aggressive goals for changing times and circumstances.
After a tumultuous 2010-2011 which saw the departure of a short-term superintendent, this school year has been stable and calm by comparison. Some of the issues that produced internal and external unrest have at least been acknowledged and are in the process of being addressed.
But stability isn’t enough. As Tupelo transitions to new leadership, it must again focus on how the system needs to change to better meet the needs of all its students and to become the high-performing system the community expects – challenges made more difficult by changing student demographics.
That was the mandate the school board gave former Superintendent Randy Shaver. On many matters, Shaver had the right ideas – better use of technology, more attention to closing the racial achievement gap in academics, higher expectations for teachers and staff, among others – but there were more than a few concerns with how changes were implemented.
Tupelo needs a superintendent who both understands the need for change and is skilled in carrying it out. It also needs a person who understands the need to listen carefully to constituencies within and outside the school system so that a greater chance exists to develop consensus for change.
This week there is a series of meetings conducted by the Mississippi School Board Association, the Tupelo search consultant. Two meetings are for the general public – tonight at 6 p.m. at the Civic Auditorium and Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Tupelo High School’s Performing Arts Center. Additionally, there will be private sessions with various community groups and the school system’s web site – www.tupeloschools.com – provides an opportunity for further public input.
Few decisions Tupelo makes in the next few years will be as important as this one. But Tupelo must also remember that no matter how capable a new superintendent may be, he or she alone can’t produce an excellent school system. That will take an entire community pulling in the same direction.