Shingle: Speaking out
Hed: THS students show support
Deck: 800 walk out of class, declare allegiance to interim principal
By Monique Harrison
An estimated 800 Tupelo High School students staged a 35-minute walkout Friday, demonstrating their support of interim principal Dr. Sue Shaw Smith.
On Tuesday, the Tupelo Public School Board had a special meeting to name Oxford High School Principal John “Mac” Curlee III to the post. A number of students and faculty members expected Smith, who has served as interim at the school since last spring, to be tapped for the position.
“I’m out here to let everyone know that I strongly disagree with the decision of the school board,” said junior Brannon Kahlstorf, 16, who gathered with other students at a flagpole in front of the school. “She’s done a lot for me personally. Dr. Smith has enforced the rules and gotten things done in a way that hasn’t happened here before. And she did it all in just one year. I’m not being critical of (Curlee). But when I get my diploma next year, I want it to be from Dr. Smith -a person who knows all of us and cares about us and who has done a great job here.”
The walkout, which students said was promoted solely by word of mouth, was peaceful and district officials said they didn’t plan to take disciplinary action against any of the students.
“We would hope that in the future our students will choose to take other avenues to express their opinions,” said Tupelo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Vinson. “We welcome the opportunity to sit down with any students who might have concerns about this decision or any other decision that we make as a district. I hope they will take advantage of that.”
Earlier in the day, Dr. Sue Shaw Smith addressed students at the 2,000-student school during an assembly program held to recognize outstanding students on the last day of school for seniors.
“She got pretty emotional at one point,” said 17-year-old Stacy Henderson, who is a junior. “She told us that she loved us and that she cared about us. And I believe that.”
Vinson said Smith will be given an opportunity to be reassigned to another administrative position within the district. He would not say what that position might be or when the board would discuss the reappointment.
Shortly after the assembly program, Smith left school grounds. Officials said she’d planned to attend the out-of-town graduation of a relative.
Vice principal Eddie McCarthy said he’d been notified of the planned walk-out early Friday and informed central office.
“This has been a very emotional day for us,” he said. “With the seniors leaving, and the knowledge that Dr. Smith will be leaving. It’s been very heavy … on our minds.”
McCarthy said he was never concerned that the demonstration would turn violent.
“I guess you have to know these kids to understand my point,” he said. “They have some very strong feelings and they felt like this was the best way to express them. They’re not violent at pep rallies. And in a way, this was a sort of pep rally for Sue Shaw Smith. They are a good group of kids. They handled themselves well.”
No additional security was called in for the demonstration, although school security guards surrounded the group, who chanted “We want Sue Shaw” off-and-on throughout the event.
McCarthy said before the rally he and other school officials had decided to allow the walk-out to go on uninterrupted for about 30 minutes. Then, male teachers walked through the group, telling students it was time to go back to class.
McCarthy said male teachers had been asked to attend the demonstration in case there were any disturbance. Several female teachers, who asked not to be identified, also attended to show support for Smith. Several teachers said they actually told students to consider attending the demonstration.
Curlee, whose appointment is effective July 1, could not be reached for comment.