‘Our future walks through these halls’: Local panelists encourage support of public schools

Published 5:18 pm Friday, November 10, 2023

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NATCHEZ — A group of local panelists, including officials, school district employees and parents, a judge and a church pastor all spoke in the same accord during a Raise Mississippi Town Hall Meeting hosted by the Mississippi Association of Educators at Natchez High School Thursday evening.

Their message to attendees: Support our public schools.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said a strong vocal movement lets legislators understand what Mississippians want, and what Mississippians should want is support for public schools.

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“It is our future walking through these halls,” Gibson said. “If we want to support our future, we must support our public schools.”

Every legislative session, there is a push to “fully fund” the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which was set up in the mid-1990s. The Raise Mississippi initiative advocates for establishing a full funding mechanism that will be funded yearly.

The Raise Mississippi initiative advocates for access to a broad range of in-school support such as school nurses, librarians, counselors, art and music teachers; classrooms equipped with modern technology, books and learning materials that help students compete in a global economy; nutritious meals and health services; safe, clean and modern school buildings; and teachers and school staff who are paid a competitive, living wage.

MAE Executive Director Antonio Castanon Luna said, “Every single student in Mississippi deserves a world-class education. We believe that Raise Mississippi will create and support the public schools to achieve that goal.”

Natchez Adams School District Interim Superintendent Zandra McDonald-Green described the district’s goals, “To ensure students are opportunity ready … for whatever job exists in the next five to 15 years. … We’re dedicated to creating a top tier education system for all students.”

But doing so requires legislative and community support.

Thursday’s meeting was the sixth of its kind coordinated by MAE, all in support of the strengthen Mississippi public schools initiative.

“Raise Mississippi is a statewide initiative to improve public schools in Mississippi and by extension, the quality of life for every Mississippian,” said local Adams County Association of Educators President Tamla Hughes. “I am surrounded by partners and allies who all agree that we must work together on behalf of the 90 percent of Mississippi’s children who are enrolled in our public schools. Mississippi’s focus on public schools is a reflection of the key role they play in fostering economic growth and prosperity throughout our region and the entire state.”

Local attorney Tim Blalock said as a business owner and a parent with public school children, there is a vital correlation between investing in public schools, job creation, and economic success.

“There is a direct connection between investments in our public schools, job creation, and economic success. For too long, Mississippi has failed to recognize that vital tie and invest in our schools. Everything is connected. To lead in innovation, in business, to reimagine where Mississippi can stand nationally–we need to invest in developing our future CEOs, innovators, and workforce, and all that takes place in our public schools,” he said.

Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, a former MAE president and NEA executive committee member, agreed.

“Public schools are building the bench of future workers who will fill good paying – and critical – jobs in our communities,” she said. “Our public schools help instill the values that will support these young people to be good citizens who are contributing members of society. They will grow to be the adults who will help us build and maintain safe, modern, and up-to-code school buildings and facilities for generations of children to come.”

Other speakers were Judge Vincent Davis, parent and NASD employee Laketa Davis, and The Rev. Kevin Campbell, who spoke of the value public schools have in raising our children and the need for churches to get involved.

“We all play a role in ensuring our children become the adults we hope and pray they will become,” he said.

To learn more about Raise Mississippi, visit www.raisemississippi.org.