Natchez native offers ideas for change

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Montrell Greene offered a simple plan Friday night: Support our schools.

And the Natchez native literally put his money where his mouth is.

Greene, the superintendent of the Cleveland School District, opened a speech to members of the Natchez Business and Civic League by singing a tribute &8212; the song &8220;The Wind Beneath My Wings&8221; &8212; to the teachers in the room who had inspired him.

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Greene has turned that inspiration into a career. He became a teacher himself, then followed a career path that took him up the ladder of success to administration.

He was a superintendent by the time he was 30 &8212; the youngest in the state &8212; and has been recognized for his efforts at education reform by Essence magazine.

The message in Greene&8217;s speech and in his life is the same: Never stop striving for excellence.

&8220;May each of us tonight pursue the passion we have,&8221; he said. &8220;It&8217;s not about being perfect. It means you&8217;re going to constantly strive to be better.&8221;

Greene was among the lucky ones; he had strong role models. Besides his teachers, on Friday night he recognized the influence of his parents &8212; father Windell Greene is longtime pastor of Fourth Street Church of Christ, where Montrell serves as minister of music.

But Greene also encouraged members of the Business and Civic League to be the inspiration for those who don&8217;t have the best role models at home or in the community.

And he certainly didn&8217;t advocate any coddling.

&8220;We have to make sure that we push children to their limits,&8221; he said.

He&8217;s right. Natchez cannot be satisfied until our district is ranked Level 4 or 5 on the state&8217;s scale of success in schools. Teachers, administrators and school board members must demand excellence, but so must the community &8212; and so must parents.

&8220;We have to have parents saying, &8216;I may have had a tough time in school, but I&8217;ll do what I can do to help. … And I&8217;m not going to throw stones at you on my way to the classroom.&8217;

&8220;We need to rally behind the education system. It&8217;s the way out for many of the children in our communities.

&8220;We need to deal with the external factor,&8221; he said. &8220;We need to have businesses saying, &8216;We stand behind you.&8217;&8221;

By encouraging the business leaders in the room to become stakeholders in local schools, Greene emphasized the importance of good schools to a community&8217;s economy.

Excellence in education &8220;is at the core of any community,&8221; Greene said.

In many ways Greene was preaching to the choir &8212; and not just because his father&8217;s oratorical ability crept into the speech.

Members of the Business and Civic League are community leaders, business owners, successful professionals, educators and mothers and fathers who continue to do their part to improve the lives of students and the lives of their fellow residents.

But Greene&8217;s message is one that serves to remind all of us how important all of us are to improving education, the economy and our entire community.

Best of all, Greene said he believes in the students. Perhaps that is the first step. &8220;Can you see this with me?,&8221; he said. &8220;Don&8217;t you think our students can do it?&8221;

Even in the easy-going, uplifting style of his speech, he spared no one from responsibility &8212; or from taking action.

&8220;We can do better. We can start here and now.&8221;

Kerry Whipple

Bean is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3541 or by e-mail at