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Hill Country Living

Community Task Force Could Help Change Narrative For Schools

I went to a Water Valley school board meeting last night. I must say, I have done  more exciting things in my life. And I know I speak for everyone in the room and also everyone not in the room when I say that. But, like we tell our kids when they have to sit down after school hours to do homework instead of playing yard ball with the neighborhood kids: “Do your homework! Do you want to fail fourth grade…again?” 

And that’s pretty much where we’re at, y’all. Our schools, however filled with teachers and students we love, are for whatever reasons, unable to make the grade. 

It’s dire. I know this isn’t big news to anyone and let me be clear, this is not a teacher-blame on my end. After all, it’s my kids who are ultimately the ones taking these tests and apparently not filling in the correct circles. 

So if we can’t solely blame teachers and we can’t really blame the students because they’re probably trying their best since candy rewards are involved, then who should we blame? Oh! We can blame the state and federal government! But, you know? How far has that ever gotten you in a forgotten rural place in Mississippi? Not too far. 

We could blame the administration but it’s so ever-changing around here that I don’t know who’s who and it’s difficult to blame someone who’s only been around since breakfast.

So, my buddy Alexe Van Beuren of the the BTC Grocery asked me and some pals to come listen to her speak to the school board. Here is what Alexe proposed: start a community task force where a variety of people brainstorm solutions around how to change the narrative of our schools, which at this point has become an economic issue in our town. 

Alexe said that people in our community have interesting and out-of-the-box ideas that need to be heard. Alderman Kagan Coughlin pointed out that Water Valley is nearing critical mass and there are enough people with enough know-how and time to devote so that the tipping point for real, productive action is near. He said it’s time for something radical. 

So, for me, the take away was this: it’s time to blame ourselves. If we make this problem our own responsibility then we leave ourselves no way to go but up because those are MY kids in that school and I am their mother and I will not fail them. 

The other day Water Valley High School teacher Heather Bynam invited me to talk to her ninth grade classes about the Wagners. They had been studying the notorious Wagner axe murders as a part of their literature lessons on the genre of mysteries. Heather planned for weeks, met with the principal about the lesson and had a meeting with me late on a Monday evening with our grocery bags and my kid in tow. We also messaged back and forth with the local historian for a day or two and there was a town field trip involved. 

She went above and beyond and the students were receptive, interested, and enthusiastic because, hello, an axe murder! That’s good teaching, y’all. 

So, what if all of us, as parents, community leaders and townspeople, invested in our kids once a month…man, even once a year…

What that one teacher did for that one, single solitary day, This is what the task force could be. Like Heather’s lesson, an exercise in out-of-the-box effort that focuses on locality and resourcefulness and requires gumption and enthusiasm.

It can be done but we have to show up for it. I, for one, am with Alexe. I’m tired of waiting for the Magic Education Fairy to come sprinkle straight-A dust over our school. And I also agree that this issue is an economic detriment to our town. Advice: any Mayoral candidate should not only be addressing this issue every single time he speaks, but also should help lead this task force and show up to a school board meeting. 

Last, in regards to the drug deal at school, my only point: These teachers, from what I understand, are much loved people. My friends know and like them. It is sad for all involved. And the teachers had every opportunity to do right. They had good jobs, have loving and supportive families, have an extended community of friends and townspeople that have already forgiven them, and, most importantly, the advantage of common sense that age and life experience brings. Yet, it seemed to not be enough to defer them. 

I hope that the next time we hear news of a busted drug deal and see the mugshot on the front page of the paper we can look at the accused with such sympathetic eyes, especially when the person pictured looks nothing like these two teachers and most likely has much less of the advantages listed above. I would love to say that I don’t know why there is a difference in how people have responded to this drug deal and any other but I know why. So do you. Consider forgiveness more often.

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