OUR OPINION: Clear focus marks new TPSD initiatives

By NEMS Daily Journal

Since his arrival a year ago, Tupelo Public School District Superintendent Gearl Loden has displayed a clear understanding of the issues facing the district as it seeks to regain community confidence and rebuild support.
One of those was that the pace of change was overwhelming the capacity to execute it effectively. Loden, in a continuing conversation with teachers, parents and the wider community, heard this and responded. New initiatives will be carefully thought out and focused.
The school year that begins in August will be his second as TPSD’s leader, and he’s announced three clearly articulated new initiatives that should be manageable – even with state curriculum changes and other new internal demands looming.
All three build on and expand practices already in place in the district, which means there are models to follow where lessons have been learned.
The extension of the arts integration program to all schools in the district through middle school builds on a success and expands it. This isn’t a frill. Using visual art, music and movement to teach concepts improves academic performance. It’s an effective way to get students to make connections and retain what they’ve learned.
Thomas Street Elementary is a model arts integration school, Pierce Street has long used the program and Lawndale and Tupelo Middle also participate. There’s a solid base of experience to expand this tool to all students below the high school level.
An initiative many parents will welcome and that should accelerate academic performance is “flexible grouping,” where first-to-fifth grade students will be grouped for instruction with other children who are on the same learning level. This makes good practical sense as a way for teachers to tailor instruction to the needs of different students in the same classroom. Students won’t be stuck in one group; frequent assessments will determine where they need to be at a particular point.
The third initiative takes a state mandate a step further. Tupelo will retain students from kindergarten to second grade who are too far behind to move up. The Legislature this year mandated retention after third grade for students not on grade level in reading. That’s too late, Loden believes.
These three initiatives all relate directly to improving academic performance. They are clear, practical and understandable. If continuously communicated and executed effectively, they should make a significant positive difference.