By STEVEN NALLEY
Early in his address at the Starkville School District’s teacher convocation, Lewis Holloway quoted a newspaper advertisement he said Irish adventurer Ernest Shackleton placed in London papers for an expedition across the Antarctic continent on foot:
“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success,” Holloway said, drawing laughter from the audience. “You laugh, but that ad got 5,000 applications.”
Holloway used the annual SSD teacher convocation Thursday at the Greensboro Center as a platform to encourage teachers to endure continual changes in education, not only through Shackleton’s story but also through new initiatives for the 2012-2013 school year.
Holloway drew cheers from the audience when he said teachers will now be allowed to use YouTube in their lessons more freely. Formerly, Youtube was blocked on SSD web browsers except for a specified education section, he said, and teachers had to get special permission to use other videos on the site. Now, he said, teachers will have full site access by default.
Holloway said the SSD will also finish installing smart boards in every classroom at the end of this year, and it is researching a three-year lease program to give every teacher a laptop, standardizing the district’s computer platform.
“There is certainly much good that can come from technology, but please be aware there is also much bad that can come from it, and improper use has caused a great deal of hardship on some educators,” Holloway said. “Your computer use needs to be transparent, appropriate, and professional.”
Another occasion for celebration was an awards ceremony for 13 Starkville Foundation for Public Education grants totaling $9,359.40. These grants are paying for a new camera for the Starkville High School media program, e-books for SHS, a school garden initiative at Ward Stewart Elementary School, a reading incentive program at Overstreet School, and many more items and programs. Gulf States Manufacturing also presented the SSD with a $5,000 check donation; Gulf States raised the funds by selling steel Yellowjacket standees.
Holloway said he is grateful to the SFPE for the hard work they put into raising funds for these grants. He also used the SFPE awards as a springboard for a tentative announcement.
“This would have to meet board approval, but if you are willing to give $10 a month through salary deduction to the foundation, which will come back to you indirectly anyhow, you can wear appropriate blue jeans on Friday,” Holloway said, eliciting cheers.
Holloway was not the only school leader present to address teachers. Keith Coble, SSD board president, said he is grateful to the district’s school teachers. He believes the work he once did as a teacher is more important than what he does now, he said, and while visiting Beijing, China this year, he realized the SSD’s teachers are more important than ever.
“When I go to China and see what they’re investing in education in their country ... those are the children that our children are going to compete with,” Coble said. “I think you understand that. We need to make the children understand that... and (make) the parents understand that. We need to make Starkville a city that cares about education.”
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman also said the teachers are important to the community, especially at the start of the school year. The start of August is an exciting time of year for him now, he said, but there was a time when he dreaded it as a student.
“Now, I’ve got the virtue of hindsight, and I’m able to see how much I was able to grow during those months,” Wiseman said. “I probably grew as much as a person in those August months in the SSD as at any point in my life. While I am no longer an active participant in that hard month of August, I realize now you (teachers) are the ones that put it on.”
Holloway said today’s teachers face challenging times, not only at the local level but also at the state and national level. He said he disagrees with state legislators pushing for charter schools to solve school budget issues, because they are not held to the same standards as public schools. He said he does believe educators need to re-evaluate their methods and their priorities.
“Over the last four years, our district has lost $9 million in funds,” Holloway said. “That’s 25 percent of our budget. That means we’ve got to look at how we do things differently. We’re facing the perfect storm of education. This is not a short-term storm but one where our entire landscape may be changed.”
Holloway compared these challenges to the ones Shackleton and his crew of 26 men faced in their Antarctic expedition, and he said the SSD could learn from their example. Their ship, the Endurance, became trapped in ice before it could even reach the continent, he said, forcing the crew to spend the winter trapped on the ship, enduring temperatures 60 degrees below zero.
The Endurance was well-supplied, Holloway said, but after 327 days at sea, the ice crushed the ship, forcing Shackleton and his crew to begin making their way home on the ice. He said it took the crew another 307 days to get the whole crew back to civilization alive, journeying on foot and by boat through darkness and bitter cold.
“Once the ship was crushed, Shackleton’s priorities changed. The effort now was to go home,” Holloway said. “Sometimes the place we find ourselves takes more to overcome than what our original journey required. We must focus on getting our students where they need to be, and we must do this together without losing anybody. Everyone on this ship is important, and we’re going to need your help, your support and your insight to solve these problems. We can’t let one school sink, one grade sink (or) one class sink. We’re all in this together.”