“When I first started, we had K-6 schools with half-day kindergarten,” recalled Teresa Gregory, a 28-year TPSD veteran who teaches gifted students at Lawndale Elementary. “As soon as kindergarten became mandatory, the elementaries changed to K-5 and all the sixth-graders were at one school.”
Eventually, Tupelo’s K-6 students were placed in seven lower elementary schools for grades K-3 and three upper elementaries for grades 4-6.
The new realignment for the 2009-2010 school year will pair lower and upper elementaries and create a single sixth-grade school.
Community forums, capacity studies and the district’s own Strategic Plan have emphasized the need for schools that are demographically well-balanced, which drives the reorganization.
“It’s reflective of our community,” said Joan Dozier, principal of Parkway Elementary.
“There’s been a lot of planning put into the reorganization,” Dozier said, noting that Tupelo students still will attend neighborhood schools. “It’s just larger neighborhoods.”
Her own school will be different in the fall. Parkway now serves children in kindergarten through the third grade, but will be reconfigured for grades K-2. It’s also getting 12 new classrooms to accommodate an anticipated 493 students.
“I feel like we are a family here at Parkway,” Dozier said. “We will be enlarging our family.”
The change reminds the 32-year educator of 2002, when Parkway opened. “I recall that they were exciting times,” she said. “It was exciting coming toa new building.”
Projected enrollment at Lawndale is 462, and with the realignment, the school will give up its sixth-graders and take on children in the third grade. That means staff adjustments as well, but Gregory is staying put.
“We just had a faculty meeting and a reception for all of our new teachers,” she said. “We had goodie bags and gave them yearbooks so they’ll feel at home.”
Shannon Edwards, Jessica Click and Carmon Dye are among the teachers from Rankin Elementary, now a K-3 school, who will be moving to Joyner Elementary.
“We met all the teachers at Joyner,” Edwards said. “Everyone was very welcoming, so the anxiety isn’t really there. That helps us.”
The new school year will have two major differences for Emily Carodine. Now a second-grade teacher at Rankin, Carodine is moving to Pierce Street Elementary and will start teaching third grade.
“I don’t mind changing and meeting new people,” she said.
Students will be welcomed across the district at open houses this week, months ahead of the first day of school in August.
When Aug. 14 comes, “They’ll just go right in” with no problem, Gregory said. “A new school to them is just like opening up a new toy.”
Still, she recognizes that some people are afraid of doing things a different way.
“Anytime there’s a change, there’s going to be anxiety,” Gregory said. “To me, change means you are constantly improving. Our town is changing. Our state is changing. Our world is changing, so we’ve got to meet all those needs.”
In the end, “I only see good things happening from improving the balancing of our schools,” Dozier said. “The bottom line is I feel it’s best for all children, I really do.”
Contact Ginny Miller at (662) 678-1582