Tupelo honors principal, teacher

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo Middle School art teacher Leah Patterson has never forgotten a question her father would ask her every night.
Thomas Street Elementary Principal Debbie Davis said her mother gave her the strength to earn her doctorate.
Supported by parents, the two educators were honored by the Tupelo Public School District on Tuesday. Patterson was named the district’s Teacher of the Year, while Davis was its Administrator of the Year. The honors were announced at a school board meeting at Lawndale Elementary.
“I just am really shocked,” said Patterson, who is in her third year teaching seventh-grade art and her seventh year as a teacher.
“We have so many amazing teachers. I feel I am a sample of what is out there, and I feel honored to represent the Tupelo Middle School faculty and to be able to serve kids in our community.”
Patterson, who grew up with six siblings, said that when she was a teenager, her father would ask her every night what she did to help someone that day. It is a question that she still tries to answer today.
“My dad really had a servant heart his entire life,” she said. “He and my mother always served others, and they taught that to us.”
Patterson received her undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi in elementary education with concentrations in art and science. She later earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and a specialist degree in educational administration, both also from Ole Miss. She has also taught in Booneville schools.
“Being from a family of seven, our family emphasized each of our unique gifts,” Patterson said. “I was artistic, and they saw that and encouraged me.
“My parents always looked at what was good with us, not what was wrong. I’ve tried to dwell on what is the best in our kids, and art allows you to do that.”
In her acceptance speech, Patterson recognized her husband, Daniel, and her 12-year-old son George.
“She worries constantly about each of her students and whether they are living up to their potential,” Daniel Patterson said.
Shortly after receiving her award, Davis said she was eager to tell her mom, Teen Mayfield, whom she called “the wind beneath my wings.”
“When I would want to give up, she would never let me,” said Davis, while also noting the support of her husband, Kenneth, and sons, John Parker, 26, and Chip, 36.
Davis has been a principal for 17 years, including 14 in the Tupelo Public School District. She spent 12 years at Pierce Street Elementary before moving to Thomas Street before the 2009-10 school year.
“You can’t have a bad day at Thomas Street,” she said. “It is those wonderful, smiling faces. They always inspire me.”
Davis received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Murray State, and her specialist and doctorate degrees from Mississippi State. She has also worked in the Amory, Okolona, Biloxi and Starkville school districts.
Davis has taken much pride from implementing the whole-arts program at Pierce Street and now at Thomas Street. It uses the arts to teach students across all of the core subjects.
“It was all about student performance and closing the achievement gap,” she said. “I’m proud of the achievement and the gains our students have demonstrated. I think arts were the tool to make learning more relevant.”
Thomas Street second-grade teacher Jeni Chandler, who has worked with Davis for 14 years, said the principal treats the faculty at the school as a team.
“She is there for the students and she supports us in every way possible to do what is best for them,” Chandler said.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.