EDITORIAL: Smooth transition

Tupelo’s school system not only has a new superintendent this year, it has changed its grade configurations and attendance zones throughout the district.
The reorganization, as Daily Journal education writer Chris Kieffer reports in today’s paper, was in the works long before Dr. Randy Shaver arrived in the summer. But it’s been the first major challenge of Shaver’s tenure to oversee the change and ensure its success.
So far, by all accounts, it’s gone relatively smoothly, allowing for the expected necessary adjustments.
Not that there weren’t some bumps and unhappiness along the way. Change is never easy, and when it involves parents and their children, the difficulty is magnified.
The process that led to this reorganization was several years in the making, and had a couple of stops and starts before it got going. There was considerable public debate about the need for and the particulars of the change. An advisory group from the community played a key role in advising the school board and former Superintendent Randy McCoy, and the final plan was approved and announced a full year before its implementation.
The process and result weren’t perfect. Given the challenge the district faced, there was really no way everyone could come out fully satisfied.
But in the best Tupelo fashion, the schools, parents and the community have pulled it off without major problems. Changes include:
– Seven grade K-3 schools and three grade 4-6 schools replaced with five K-2 schools, four 3-5 schools and one 6th-grade only school. Tupelo Middle School (7-8) and Tupelo High School (9-12) remained the same.
– Each lower elementary is a feeder school for a 3-5 school, meaning children stay together from one school to the next.
– Attendance zones for all schools were changed, and some rather dramatically.
The point of all this change boils down to a commitment the district has made and kept through the years to maintain a roughly equal socioeconomic and racial mix from school to school. This is sound policy in that it keeps individual schools from taking on identities based on economic status or race. Maintaining a balance in each school similar to that of the district as a whole helps maintain the strength of each and underscores the district’s mission to educate all children in the community.
By tinkering around the edges through the years, Tupelo has made relatively minor changes often, but those cumulative changes created anxiety and a sense of instability, as parents wondered from year to year whether their children would stay in the same school. The biggest selling point of the major change of this year’s reorganization is that it should reduce the need for frequent changes in the future. Larger attendance zones for fewer schools in particular grade ranges will make it easier to keep the balance intact.
Stability for the foreseeable future is important for Tupelo to be able to focus on improving educational opportunities for all children and reinforcing confidence in the system.
The smooth transition to a new school structure is another indication that the community and the school district have the capacity to respond effectively to whatever challenges confront them.

NEMS Daily Journal