By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – A classroom’s climate makes a big difference to a student’s achievement.
That was the message of the keynote speaker as Tupelo teachers returned to work on Monday. More than 1,100 school district employees ended their summer break by attending the district’s back-to-school meeting at Tupelo High School’s Performing Arts Center.
Crystal Kuykendall spoke of ways educators can better reach their students, especially vulnerable pupils who come from high-poverty backgrounds. The president and general counsel of Kreative and Innovative Resources for Kids said too many children get to a point in their lives where they do not believe they are expected to make it.
“When they don’t believe they can make it down life’s high road, they start down the low road,” she said. “When they start down life’s low road, we all pay a price.”
Kuykendall spoke of the importance of physical proximity, courtesy, praise and affirmation, acceptance of feelings and appreciation of differences. She noted the value of tone and of relationships.
“What I hope they take is renewed determination to change the practices we know don’t bring out the best in children,” she said.
Kuykendall also will visit individual schools and discuss strategies for discipline and classroom management.
“She is talking about building relationships and the need for interaction between students,” said Tupelo High science teacher Teresa Ware.
Monday’s meeting began a week of preparation for the new school year, which begins Monday when students report for classes.
Superintendent Gearl Loden spoke to the staff about the changes coming to education. Teachers are used to changes, he said, but he has never seen a year where the evaluations, tests and accountability models are all changing at one time.
“A lot of districts will get overwhelmed, and we need to focus on relationships, how to communicate with children and good instructional practices,” Loden said.
The ceremony began with four Joyner Elementary students reading notes the school received following last April’s tornado.
Those students also recited the Pledge of Allegiance, while Tupelo High students sang the National Anthem.