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The need to teach: School district honors excellence in education


NATCHEZ — Each of this year’s Natchez-Adams School District honorees said working in education is their calling in life, whether that calling is to lead the classroom, empty trashcans or maintain order in the entire school.

Last week, the Natchez-Adams School District recognized 2018-2019 teachers of the year elected from each of the nine schools in the district, as well as one district-wide teacher of the year, administrator of the year, classified employee of the year and two parents of the year.

“I teach because I must,” said Jamal McCullen, the district’s teacher of the year.

McCullen said his teaching career started at McLaurin Elementary School in 2011. Though this school year was McCullen’s first as a teacher at Susie B. West Elementary School, McCullen said he first walked through those same halls as a student himself.

“I’m honored, of course, and humbled to be recognized as the teacher of the year for Susie B. West,” McCullen said. “It’s the same campus where I’ve made some of my lifelong friends. … I do love being chosen as the district teacher of the year … but anytime you can come home, so to speak, it’s a little more rewarding. … The biggest reward is the vitality and energy you get from teaching elementary students. … You basically become a family for a year.”

The district’s administrator of the year, Orisha Brown Mims, said she is finishing her third year as principal at Joseph Frazier Elementary School after serving two years as the principal at Morgantown Elementary School.

Prior to her years as an administrator, Mims said she started as a teacher’s assistant and later taught eighth-grade science for six years in Jefferson County.

“It feels awesome to have this honor,” she said. “I started out as a teacher’s assistant and from there became a teacher, a principal and now to be recognized as the principal of the year is a blessing.”

Mims said she does her job by investing time to help her teachers and staff, praying consistently and by treating the nearly 500 students at Frazier as if they are her own.

“I do what I do with a lot of prayer,” Mims said. “I cannot be everywhere, so I have to invest in people who are. … This is not a job that you can do for a paycheck. … If you don’t believe this is where you’re meant to be, then it won’t work. You have to believe that this is where God has called you to be.”

Likewise, Angela Anderson said she made it through 25 years as a custodian at the building that currently operates as Natchez Freshman Academy by showing others that she’s happy to serve, which paid off when she received the classified employee of the year award.

“I count it all a joy,” Anderson said. “This job created some growth in me. It makes you take a hard long look at yourself inward. … I never dreamed I would be the employee of the year. … I give accolades to the district for allowing this to happen … and I thank them for the recognition.”

During her time at Natchez Freshman Academy, Anderson said she has watched the school change from an alternative school into the school it is today, during which she has encountered students who are both gifted and, sometimes, less fortunate than others.

“I’ve learned to be patient with them, and sometimes I apply tough love,” Anderson said. “They will reward you with greetings and hugs. I didn’t realize that I was sheltered when I was younger, but this job has really opened my eyes. … If something is going on in your personal life, you have to leave it at the door. … If it’s even to dump trashcans, both the young and the old can tell whether you like your job.”

Other honorees this school year includes the two district parents of the year — Kristina Carter and Carline “CeCe” Harper — and teachers of the year from each of the eight remaining schools in the district.

These honorees are: Audrey Curry of Fallin Career and Technology Center, Lillie Sweazy of Natchez High School, Shelia Lanius of McLaurin Elementary School, Oquella Gaines of Natchez Freshman Academy, Celeste Kinds of Robert Lewis Magnet School, Stephanie Latham of Joseph Frazier Elementary School, Fred McCray of Morgantown Middle School and Erica Brown Tanner of Natchez Early College Academy.