‘Always there to help’: McLaurin Elementary coping with sudden death of teacher

Published 3:47 pm Thursday, January 26, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Natchez-Adams School District and McLaurin Elementary School lost one of their beloved teachers earlier this week.

Kimberly McKnight died Tuesday at age 36, according to a notice from West Gate Funeral Home which is handling her arrangements.

The district shared its grief on social media Wednesday afternoon.

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“McLaurin Elementary School and the Natchez-Adams School District are deeply saddened about the loss of Kimberly McKnight, a beloved Inclusion Teacher,” the post said. “Kim was an outstanding teacher who cared very deeply about the success and well-being of her students. Our Bulldog Nation will miss her very much and will spend many difficult moments grieving her loss.”

McLaurin’s interim principal, Toni Martin, said the school is planning to have a celebration of life service on the school’s front lawn at a later time when her family can attend. McKnight’s mother, Francis McKnight, also works at the school in the cafeteria.

McKnight has been employed at McLaurin for six years, first as a teacher’s assistant. She became fully certified to teach two years ago and was currently serving in the fourth and fifth-grade exceptional education department, Martin said.

“Actually, she served many students on our campus,” she said. “She had 18 regular students and was a TA for several years. Last year she served kinder and first-grade and this year moved up to serve fourth and fifth.”

Kenethia Doss, a fourth-grade teacher whose students worked closely with McKnight, described her as being, “soft-spoken with a huge smile.”

“She was always working hard making sure there were solutions for the teachers and the kids,” Doss said.

Crystal Morgan and Donna Loomis, both inclusion teachers, recalled spending late nights at the school with McKnight until they were “run off” by the principal or custodial staff.

McKnight texted them the evening before and around midnight on the day that she died.

“She was my backbone,” Loomis said. “She was always mama-ing me and making sure that I took care of myself.”

In May, Loomis became ill and was in intensive care and McKnight was one person who kept checking on her to make sure she was OK, Loomis said.

“The main characteristic about Kim is the amount of caring that she had for others,” Loomis said. “Every single day — if it wasn’t her by herself it was her and Morgan together — they would come in and check on me to see how I was doing. When I was sick, there wasn’t a day that went by those ladies didn’t check on me. Even when I was in intensive care and couldn’t respond they would still check on me. She just cared about everybody, kids and adults. She had this sweet spirit about her.”

The loss has been difficult for the McLaurin school family, who less than a year ago lost another teacher to illness, Tanya Jenkins Jeannice, Martin said. District social workers have been to the campus to speak with students and help the younger children cope, she added.

“More than ever now, we’re learning. At McLaurin, we’re a family and when it comes to things like this we do come together, lean on each other, find comfort and provide comfort to each other talking about the memories,” Martin said. “We cried a lot and hugged a lot. That day was a hard day here.”

McKnight worked Monday morning but left work early not feeling well. The next day, she was in the hospital with double pneumonia.

“It was like she was here one day and gone the next,” Martin said.

In addition to her teaching career, Morgan said McKnight was a counselor with Family Connections, and often her two areas of expertise would merge together at work.

“She was always there to help the students with whatever problem they had,” Morgan said.

McKnight was a member of the Zeta Delta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, of which her co-worker Carla B. Irving is the president.

She also attended Second Union Baptist Church, where she served the senior choir, youth department and kitchen ministries, Irving said.

“We were church family, co-workers and sorority sisters,” Irving said. “She was initiated in 2014 and served with love and pride. She was soft-spoken but would willingly do whatever was asked of her and served on many, many committees.”

She was a few months shy of obtaining a doctorate degree in theology, Irving added.

On Friday the teachers, including ones who are members of rival sororities, plan to wear pink and green in McKnight’s honor.