A Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District parent and outspoken public education advocate has been recognized as the Mississippi Department of Education parent of the year.
On May 15, Leslie Fye was announced as the recipient of the award. Fye has been heavily involved in activism and advocacy for public schools statewide, and is one of the founding members of the Mississippi Public Education PAC. She has also served as president of the Starkville Foundation for Public Education, and as Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) class representative for both Armstrong Middle School and Starkville High School. She is a mother of two children in the district, including one who will graduate in the Starkville High School class of 2019.
Fye said she was humbled to be recognized as the parent of the year, and said that great public schools require support from the community.
“Most people have no idea of how much good goes on in public schools,” Fye said. “I want to support that good and multiply it in every way I can, and, if I can, help educate and inspire others to support their public schools.” She said she was thankful for the amount of engagement in Starkville public schools.
She also said her work as a licensed professional counselor inspired her involvement.
“My desire each day is to help my clients find the best inside themselves and grow that.” Fye said. “What I have learned over the years volunteering in classrooms and showing up for plays and sporting events is that my impact is small compared to our public schools. Our public schools are the most far-reaching doorway to discovering and developing the qualities that will help the children in Oktibbeha County and throughout Mississippi move from surviving to thriving, happy, healthy citizens.”
Fye became involved in activism and advocacy after becoming aware of challenges faced by public schools, such as underfunding and standardized testing. She said she also strives to keep local parents informed of what is going on in the legislature regarding education.
“I realized our schools need an advocate at the Capitol as much as they need one in their local community, and that parents need to learn about realistic ways they can be a voice for their schools,” Fye said. “From this realization, in the summer of 2016, I helped form the MS Public Education PAC (MSPEPAC), because I believe the best way to change the culture, funding problems and policy in public education is to change the level of support and understanding of our state legislators.”
She also maintains a group text and email with several local parents informing them of education issues in the legislature. Over the last three years, her reach has expanded from 50 Golden Triangle parents to 500. She said one of her proudest moments, as a parent was the consolidation of the former Starkville School District and Oktibbeha County School District.
“We still have some hurdles to overcome – mainly overcrowding, because this kind of undertaking doesn’t happen overnight,” Fye said. “But, overall, the result has shown me that great public schools are not just the responsibility of our teachers and administrators, they are the responsibility of our whole community.”
Finalists for the award included Kimberly Jeffares of the Tupelo Public School District, Carrie Handley Miley of the Clinton Public School District and Terri Lichlyter of the Petal School District.
“I want the public will to understand that our schools in Mississippi do more for the most under-resourced children in the poorest state in the nation with less resources,” Fye said. “If you compare the achievement levels of our under resourced children to those of the rest of the nation, you would see that we move from close to 50th to the top 25% in many categories. I wonder what we could do if we funded our schools at the same level as our neighboring states.”