Tupelo council, board discuss problems

By NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Two members of the Tupelo school board and three members of the City Council met Friday afternoon to talk about concerns expressed by the community about the school system.
School board member Amy Heyer said City Council President Fred Pitts called her and asked to get together. The meeting, which came after council members complained that the school board would not meet with them earlier, took place at the school district’s central office and lasted about 90 minutes.
The groups got together after two days of community unrest stemming from the Tupelo Public School District’s announcement that Lee Stratton will not be the Tupelo High School’s principal next year.
There have been multiple rallies supporting Stratton, including one Friday in front of City Hall.
Stratton will be replaced at THS by Chris Barnes, principal of a prekindergarten through eighth-grade school in North Carolina, effective July 1.
Heyer and Lee Tucker attended the Friday meeting from the school board and Pitts, Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis and Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis represented the council. There was not a quorum of either group so it was not an announced public meeting just an informal talk between those present to open the lines of communication.
Members from both the school board and council said the meeting was informal and meant to start a dialogue between both groups.
“We just started a dialogue and talked about what the council and the schools could do to work together to improve our schools and listen to community concerns,” Heyer said. “We both want the same things, what is best for the city of Tupelo.”
Pitts said he felt good about the meeting.
“We emphasized to them the urgency of answering the public to the standpoint of – come up with something that we can go to the public with by the first of next week,” Pitts said.
“We’re not going to be running the school system, but we’ll continue to meet. We want something by the first of the week to calm things down a little bit. This is an ongoing situation.”
Pitts said it was a very frank discussion.
“We’re not the ones that need to be solving the nitty gritty, day-to-day stuff but we need to show something positive,” Pitts said. “To give the people something to hang their hats on. You’ve got three areas of concern: image problem, trust problem from community and from teachers. How do we solve the image problem? How do we address trust problem and how do we get the teachers to start saying they’re capable of controlling their classroom and I have the backing of the administration?”
School board member Lee Tucker said it was a good chance for the two groups to talk.
“It was an informal discussion of communications and concerns citizens have expressed to them about better communication and their desire to help us support and build the best school system they could,” Tucker said. “They shared the concerns citizens had.”
Jonny Davis said the meeting was the start of a long process.
“We wanted to make sure that they understood and recognized things that we were hearing,” Davis said. “They’re very passionate about what they’re doing. They need to be more available and communicate their goals in the school district. At some point we want to get everybody together.”
Heyer and Pitts will try to meet again on Monday.
Another rally to support Stratton took place at 4 p.m. Friday in front of City Hall. There were about 25 people, including 15 students with signs saying “We back Strat” along with other messages of support of the principal.

NEMS Daily Journal reporters Chris Kieffer and Emily Le Coz contributed to this article.