By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo Christian Preparatory School teacher Elise Black still chuckles when she recalls the school’s earliest fire drills.
After opening in 1988 in what was then First Evangelical Church, the school did not have an intercom system. So, Black recalls, when it needed to hold such an exercise, the school’s headmaster would walk through the hallways beating on a pan with a spoon.
“We were so small, you couldn’t help but hear it,” Black said. “We have definitely come a long way in that department.”
The school is now celebrating its 25th anniversary, a time for those who saw its earliest days to reflect on how much it has changed. From an initial population of 71 students and six teachers, the school now enrolls 485 students and employs 53 teachers, including assistants.
It moved to its own campus on Endville Road near McCullough Boulevard in 2003 and added a high school building in 2006. From being entirely an elementary school, it now educates students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and has had four graduating classes.
“During the eight years I’ve been here, I am realizing the groundwork laid by a lot of people,” said Elementary Principal Ronnie Gholston. “We have been aggressive in promoting the cause of Christ and promoting an education that will prepare our students for life.”
Third-grade teacher Debbie Lansdell has taught at TCPS since its first year. She recalls when the school’s classroom teachers also had to teach music and physical education. She also remembers paydays during the early years when the money would not be available in the morning.
“By the afternoon, there would be a payday,” she said. “God provided every time. I don’t know how he did it sometimes, but he did.”
Today, she enjoys reuniting with those who have been through her classroom.
“I’m most proud of my students,” she said. “It is fun to go into town and see my grown students and see who they are and what they have become.”
Headmaster Brian Benscoter has been at the school only since July. As TCPS celebrates its silver anniversary this year, he has met with a team of 25 people – including faculty, board members, former board members, alumni and administrators – to work on a new strategic plan for the school.
“For any organization, business or ministry, 25 years is significant,” he said. “It was a great time for us to say, ‘This is why God built this place, and how are we doing?”
The developing plan is focused on seven areas: academics, Christ-centered, community service, facilities, finances, technology and vision.
He said they are working to involve more critical thinking in the school’s academics and to incorporate more ways for students to use technology when doing assignments.
Facility needs include a cafeteria, an auditorium and an athletic field house. The school also is focused on more meaningful community service and forming stronger ties with the community at large.
As the school looks toward its future, Benscoter said, it is also important to be mindful of its past.
“It is important for us to remember where we came from so we don’t wander away from that,” he said.