Raising concerns: Yard signs call for TPDS changes

By Chris Kieffer and Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Several homeowners have begun displaying signs in their front yards expressing their disappointment with the Tupelo Public School District’s leaders.
The signs read, “For Sale Why? Ask Your School Board and City Leaders.” They emerged from a meeting last week of a group of concerned parents and residents who said the school district’s administration was ignoring their concerns.
Many of those parents were supporters of fired Tupelo High School choral director Calvin Ellis but said that their issues ran deeper.
“We are here to give good support for the school system,” said parent John Sanders, who led much of that meeting. “…If someone has something to say against the administration, that person is not a racist, an elitist or against public schools.”
The signs, first distributed at the end of that meeting, note Tupelo’s recent struggles with middle-class migration and carry a message that the trend will increase if problems are not addressed soon, Sanders noted. He said the signs are intended to be a visual cue to spark conversations that can lead to changes.
“We are trying to find a visible way to show support for the schools and let everyone know we are demanding better,” he said.
TPSD Interim Superintendent David Meadows said on Wednesday the district is willing to have a discussion about those concerns.
“Whenever there are concerns or issues raised by our community, we, as a district, want to hear and need to listen to the concerns,” Meadows said in a statement. “The district welcomes the opportunity to hear from our community about how we can better serve our students, and we stand willing and ready to make ourselves available for conversation.”
Tupelo resident Jim Davis addressed the City Council about the signs on Tuesday night and his message was similar to Sanders’.
“It has been suggested that this is a negative campaign, but I suggest it’s positive,” Davis told the council. “Any superintendent candidate with the intestinal fortitude for the challenge should be elated (at the campaign). This is an active and engaged group of parents willing to contribute beyond the call of duty to the district’s success. The worst fear of a prospective superintendent should be apathy.”
City Council President Fred Pitts disagreed, however, and said he felt the campaign would hurt the city and school district as it searches for a new superintendent to replace Randy Shaver, who was released from his contract in April.
“I think it’s a very negative sign,” Pitts said. “I think it’s a threat. The city has nothing to do with what I’m assuming is about the school system.”
Parent Gina Thorderson also said that she believed the signs carry the wrong message.
“I think there is a small group of people who have become very vocal,” Thorderson said. “I think they are dissatisfied with a teacher’s termination, and they are presenting their problems as a system-wide failure in the Tupelo Public School District.
“…If there are problems, let’s work on them together. Let’s not threaten to leave the city. If their intention is to be positive, let’s have some ideas and work together.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com emily.lecoz@journalinc.com