LLOYD GRAY: Connect schools and communities for good of both

Last Thursday, I fielded an e-mail from a subscriber who said he was “sick and tired” of seeing so much about schools in the Daily Journal.
School news, he said, should be communicated through school channels to students and parents, not in the newspaper. The clear implication was that the community-at-large wasn’t really much interested in anything about “all the schools doing this, having this and thinking about this.”
I wish he could have attended two events in Tupelo last week, both of which received front-page coverage. They might not have changed his own lack of interest, but they could have helped him better understand the connection and ownership the Tupelo community and others in our region feel for their schools, reflected in this newspaper’s emphasis on education.
The Association for Excellence in Education held its annual luncheon meeting at Parkway Elementary School on Thursday. AEE is a private organization founded 26 years ago by Tupelo citizens to raise money to support innovation in the classroom. This year, the 400-member group will award $135,000 in grants that will enhance learning for Tupelo Public School District students at all levels.
All that money – and the $2.6 million-plus given in the preceding years – is raised from individuals and businesses who care very much about what goes on in Tupelo classrooms. A similar organization, ExPECT, raises money for the Lee County school system and other community support organizations in the region and state are patterned after AEE.
They are tangible expressions of an understanding that nothing is more central to the economic success, social cohesiveness and quality of life of a community than a strong public school system. And to have good schools, community interest and engagement – from the broad community, not just students and parents – is essential. The communities that understand and practice this truth are categorically more successful than those that don’t get it or give up.
Earlier last week, the Tupelo Rotary Club held its annual Rotary Scholars event, honoring the students from grades 7-12 with the highest grade point averages in the Tupelo public schools. The Summit Convention Center was packed with proud parents and grandparents, but the event, as always, was more than simply a recognition of individual student achievement. It was a demonstration of the wider community’s interest in what goes on its schools and the centrality of those schools to the welfare of Tupelo.
These two events and a third – the CREATE Foundation’s Teachers of Distinction awards in the fall – are perhaps the most visible annual demonstrations of the strong ties and inseparable connection between the schools and the community in Tupelo. Public schools aren’t something separate and apart from the real “news” in a community – they are its heart and lifeblood.
That’s the primary reason there’s even more school news played prominently in the paper today. The articles about the upcoming Tupelo school reorganization should be of great interest to parents whose children will be affected by the changes, of course. But they’re also no doubt of interest to a much broader audience because as the public schools go, so goes Tupelo.
That understanding has kept the public schools strong and will help them continue to improve in Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi. This region, for the most part, gets it.
So news that the schools are “doing this, having this, and thinking about this” is far more than the narrow domain of students and parents. It is the business of everyone whose tax dollars support the schools and whose quality of life is heavily influenced by how they perform.
Last week’s events simply underscore that connection. Prominent coverage of them speaks to the values that the community, as well as this newspaper, established a long time ago. Valuing public schools as the foundation for a strong community and expecting a lot from them doesn’t happen or continue automatically; it’s a value that must be renewed and re-enforced. Expect your newspaper to continue to hold high that heritage.

Lloyd Gray is editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.


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