&8216;Teacher comfort&8217; takes on new meaning today

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

When you leave your lifelong home for a new town and your first real job, it&8217;s the little things that matter.

A very proud 20-year resident of Oxford and a recent graduate of Ole Miss, nothing about Natchez was home to me a year and a half ago.

There weren&8217;t (and still aren&8217;t) any people my age &8212; a stark contrast to a college town; there were more abandoned properties than I&8217;d ever been exposed to; and there wasn&8217;t a soul here that I knew.

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That was, until I heard the name of the new principal at McLaurin Elementary. At first, I wasn&8217;t sure it was the same Karen Tutor, but she quickly confirmed that it was by her bubbly greeting at a school board meeting. The connection was weak, but strong enough for someone surrounded by strangers.

Karen Tutor is a name and a face I remember from what seems like day one of my education.

She was never my teacher &8212; she taught special ed &8212; but she had a presence in the Oxford School District from the beginning.

I can picture where her room was on the hallway and I remember most of us kids thinking she was strict &8212; the first sign of a good educator, I&8217;ve since learned.

I remember when she made the jump from the classroom to administration &8212; I was a high schooler. And I remember working loosely with her on the school&8217;s newsletter in my earliest days as a journalist.

Then the memories stop and don&8217;t start again until Natchez. I went to college, she went higher up on the administration chain.

For Mrs. Tutor, the McLaurin job was coming home to her Franklin County roots.

For me, the first days in Natchez were spent hunting out all signs of red and blue in what seemed like a purple and gold world. Links to home seemed non-existent.

Mrs. Tutor was not just a link to Oxford; she was someone I remembered.

Two months from the start of her third year at McLaurin, Mrs. Tutor&8217;s impacting the lives of a whole new set of children in a different portion of the state, and she&8217;s gaining a little recognition for it.

As a state finalist for administrator of the year, Mrs. Tutor&8217;s impact in Natchez garnered her the praise of state officials, praise that Natchez, and Oxford, already knew she deserved.

As an education reporter, I have new memories of Mrs. Tutor. I&8217;ve seen her interact with her new students. I&8217;ve seen her pile on the praise and send out the stern look. I&8217;ve heard her game plan for the future and I&8217;ve seen how much she cares.

Before the state interviews, Mrs. Tutor was chosen by other Natchez-Adams principals and assistants to be the district&8217;s administrator of the year. Those administrators understand the potential McLaurin has better than I do, but my layman&8217;s opinion knows it&8217;s there.

I&8217;m aware of a school moving forward, innovative ideas and a team atmosphere.

I see improved test scores, excited teachers and well-behaved students.

I sense a brighter future.

The judges for administrator of the year probably saw the same things. Though she didn&8217;t win the state title, the committee told Superintendent Anthony Morris they&8217;d like to see Mrs. Tutor again. Now, when I hear the name Karen Tutor I don&8217;t think of Oxford, I think of McLaurin.

But there&8217;s still no better interview than sitting in Mrs. Tutor&8217;s office, surrounded by Ole Miss memorabilia and pictures from Oxford and feeling at home.

Julie Finley is education reporter for The Democrat.