By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Noting the competition that exists when parents choose where to send their children to school, first-year Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden has begun a campaign to aggressively market the school district.
From billboards to newspaper advertisements to a student-produced program that airs on WTVA, the district has actively tried to share its story.
This comes after a period of turmoil during which community leaders expressed concerns that individuals were leaving Tupelo for other communities because of the school system. The TPSD also competes with Tupelo Christian Preparatory School and with homeschooling to attract or retain students.
Since assuming leadership of the district in June, Loden has worked to calm concerns and much of the turmoil has quieted. In the marketing plan, he is trying to build upon that momentum.
Loden estimates they have spent about $20,000 on various marketing efforts.
“There is a big shift in education,” Loden said. “We are in a competitive environment for the first time in education. If we don’t tell our message someone else will.
“If you look at the resources we have, they are second to none, and I want to make sure that is told not just for Tupelo but for the region.”
Efforts include TPSD yard signs distributed during the fall and 3,659 additional yard signs given to students who have made the honor roll.
“I get excited every time I drive through a neighborhood and see an honor-roll sign,” said TPSD Communications Director Kay Bishop. “I have heard stories about students who had never been on the honor roll say I want to do it so I can get one of those signs.”
After achieving a “High Performing” ranking from the Mississippi Department of Education in September based on student scores on state tests, the district proclaimed that message from several billboards around town.
It currently has three billboards that contain testimonials from families about their positive experiences in the school district. Two of those are located on North Gloster Street near The Mall at Barnes Crossing, and one is on West Main Street near Todd’s Big Star. Others may be coming, and Loden said many of them have been paid for by private sponsors.
The district also has begun a newspaper advertisement campaign, using ads in the Daily Journal to provide family testimonials or updates on its progress toward certain goals.
It has activated a Twitter account, @tupeloschools, and has created a YouTube channel.
The THS broadcast journalism class is producing a half-hour news program about the district that will air on the second Saturday of each month on WTVA’s various channels. The program, which aired for the first time in April, is also shown at the mall’s food court.
“We’d like people to know we are doing our best to educate the citizens of Tupelo and help economic development,” Loden said. “People want to come here to live, work and learn.”
The district recently printed brochures to distribute to visitors wanting to learn more about its schools. It has sent numerous surveys to various stakeholders and created anonymous online suggestion boxes for parents and teachers. The parent box has received 61 suggestions since March.
“This year, we’ve had a concerted marketing plan to reach stakeholders in different ways,” Bishop said.