LLOYD GRAY: Loden knows task ahead

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

Knowing an organization’s challenges is a prerequisite to effective leadership. In that respect, Gearl Loden has a head start as he gets ready to become superintendent of the Tupelo Public School District.
Loden clearly understands the situation. He knows that while many good things still are happening, all isn’t well within TPSD, and that “mending fences” in the community, as he puts it, will occupy much of his time in the early stages.
He knows, too, that student academic performance must be significantly improved – at every level. He’s fully aware of the discipline issues that have caused public concern. And he realizes that community support and the long-term viability of the school system, and by extension Tupelo itself, hangs in the balance.
So, no pressure, right?
Loden, who’s spent the last three school years as Amory superintendent, doesn’t appear fazed by it all. In fact, he seems to relish the challenges.
His demeanor is one of quiet confidence, yet it also suggests an approachability that should serve him well. He doesn’t appear to be overly fond of hearing himself talk. That’s good, because he will need to do a lot of listening.
The pressure will be there. But there’s an upside that Loden seems equally aware of and that he plans to leverage. It’s this: Tupelo’s schools are blessed with a strong heritage of community involvement and support, and, certainly compared with other Mississippi districts, an abundance of resources.
Equally important is that there is a hunger in the community for school renewal. Legions of people want deeply to be confident in, and proud of, the schools again. They want to rally around a leader who can help make it happen.
The heritage, the resources that have accompanied it, and a community eager to see the schools improve are factors no one should underestimate. They provide a foundation for the work Loden will be called to do and the leadership he will be expected to provide.
Unrealistic expectations of what one person can do – and his ability to make everyone happy – are potential pitfalls. Whatever the length of the honeymoon, the time will come when he will make hard decisions that will upset somebody or ruffle some group’s feathers. If he’s doing his job, he can count on it.
But if he’s established relationships of trust with teachers, principals, parents and the wider community, he’ll be able to weather the difficult times.
Something else about Loden is that he has more than a career stake in all of this. He’s a native Northeast Mississippian, reared in Mantachie. He’s spent most of his education career in the region. Loden understands that Tupelo’s health is vitally important to the communities that surround it.
Then there are those two boys, ages 10 and 3. He and his wife Monica will have more than a professional interest in how Tupelo’s schools are doing.
In short, Gearl Loden gets it about Tupelo and its schools. That’s not all it takes, but it’s an excellent place to start.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.