Friends remember Sims-Bell as dedicated teacher

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 26, 2003

CENTREVILLE &045;&045; Gwen Sims-Bell was a dedicated professional who set a standard of excellence for others to follow, according to those she worked with for 24 years at Finch Elementary School in Centreville.

A 45-year-old special education teacher, Sims-Bell died Dec. 11 in a vehicle accident on Mississippi 33 near Crosby.

She was driving to work from her home in Fayette when the accident occurred.

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Principal Willie McCray said he quickly recognized Sims-Bell as an expert in her field when McCray arrived at the school in February.

&uot;I didn’t have to talk to the district director (about special education). Ms. Bell could have easily performed in that capacity herself,&uot; McCray said.

Sims-Bell worked with resource students referred to her by other teachers from first through fifth grades. The job not only requires a mix of patience and discipline but also involves a considerable amount of recordkeeping.

&uot;But no matter how many kids we sent her, she never complained,&uot; said fourth-grade teacher Betty Boss.

Boss and fifth-grade teacher Winnie Henyard, who have both worked more than 30 years at the school, worked with Sims-Bell during her entire career. They said she kept tabs on her students’ progress in their regular classes. &uot;She was always interested in how they were doing in our classes. She would ask us,&uot; Henyard said.

And Sims-Bell’s hard work produced excellent results at test time. McCray said all of her students mastered the benchmarks of the state-mandated Mississippi Curriculum Test.

&uot;She had an air about her that demanded respect. She was a strong manager, and her test results indicated that,&uot; McCray said.

Sims-Bell was named Teacher of the Year three times during her career&045;&045;twice at Finch Elementary and once for the entire Wilkinson County School District.

&uot;That’s a rarity. There are some folks who work their entire careers and never earn that distinction,&uot; McCray said.

Theresa Hargrave, a kindergarten teacher at FES for 22 years, said Sims-Bell could have long ago transferred to a school closer to her home but chose to remain at FES.

&uot;It’s a close-knit family here. Once you become a part of that family, it’s hard to leave,&uot; Hargrave said.

Despite her 50-mile commute to work, Sims-Bell was rarely late or absent, McCray said.

&uot;It was her dedication to the job that brought her out of her house that morning … She left a challenge for us all to be like her,&uot; he said.

Funeral services for Sims-Bell will be at 1 p.m. today at Hollywood Baptist Church in Fayette. Burial will be at Fountain Chapel A.M.E. Church Cemetery in Fayette. Visitation will be from 11:30 a.m. until services at Hollywood Baptist Church.