By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal
Eighteen years ago, the first of our three children entered kindergarten in the Tupelo Public Schools. On Friday night, child No. 3 graduated from Tupelo High School.
The Gray children’s journey through TPSD ends at a time when the school system is unsettled, to say the least, and in a year that has seen unprecedented upheaval resulting in the departure of the superintendent. The district is under intense scrutiny from the community, and its shortcomings – real and perceived – have been fully aired. Much work lies ahead in addressing problems and restoring public confidence.
That said, as one parent reflecting on the education of one set of children, it is impossible for me to look back on the breadth of that 18-year experience without a sense of gratitude.
Oh sure, there have been a few less-than-stellar teachers along the way, some things we wish would have been done differently and the occasional frustration with this or that. But that would be the case most anywhere, and my gratitude still abounds.
I’m grateful, first of all, that my children attended school in a community that cares deeply about its public schools and that understands they are the foundation for everything the community aspires to be. In the midst of all the recent turmoil, we may have forgotten that such an understanding is far from universal among communities.
I’m grateful that such community commitment resulted in adequately funded classrooms, above-average facilities, expansive course offerings and enrichment of the educational experience through a variety of publicly and privately funded “extras.”
I’m grateful for the many good teachers, starting in the earliest years of school, who taught and nurtured our children and for those truly excellent ones who lit a fire under them. Teachers in Tupelo are supported and appreciated in the community, and again, that’s not the case everywhere.
I’m grateful for the extraordinary range of extracurricular activities available to my children throughout their school careers, and for the insistence on the pursuit of excellence by the adults who led them.
I’m grateful for the principals and other administrators who ensured a safe and nurturing environment that never once gave us reason to worry about whether our children would be OK at school.
I’m grateful that my children, because they live in a community that has grasped the unifying aspect of public education, were able to go to schools whose enrollment reflected the breadth of social, economic and racial diversity they will encounter in the wider world. This is not the reality in the public schools of many communities where people have chosen division by class and race over a common educational meeting ground.
Finally, I’m grateful that each of my three children left the Tupelo Public Schools well prepared for the next educational level, and that the two who have already been to college found themselves ahead of their peers – even those from highly regarded private schools – in some elements of their academic preparation.
At Friday night’s graduation, it was time to set aside – for a moment – the very real challenges the school system faces to celebrate what it has meant to so many, and how the recognition of its importance has been a defining element of Tupelo’s identity. In the necessary community conversation and debate about where we go from here, we can’t afford to lose sight of the fact that as the school system goes, so goes the community.
We can be assured that there are people around the state – even those who’ve resented all the ink Tupelo has gotten in the past, and our high self-regard – who are pulling for us to get our schools back on track. I’ve heard from a few of them. They know it’s important that the Tupelo system survives and thrives as evidence of what strong public schools can do for community cohesiveness and well-being.
As I watched Friday night’s graduation ceremony, my thoughts were a bit more narrow and parochial. I thought of my own children, and I was grateful. The task before Tupelo now is to raise the chances that other parents, years into the future, will feel the same.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.