Usually when you come here, you find some painting or photograph I’ve taken, some bit of design work I’ve done for a client, or some interesting piece of paper or illustration that inspires me this week. Today is a little different. The graphic up there is one I’ve been working with for Parents for Public Schools of Starkville as we advocate for a successful consolidation this year, and I have to admit it’s a very passionate effort for me. So friends, I hope you’ll permit me a more local-centered and current-event-charged post on an issue very personal to me… I’m a product of public education. In more ways than one. I went to public schools and my parents are also 30-year veterans of work in public education — a high school principal and a 3rd grade teacher. It’s just how I was brought up. I was the kid riding on the high school cheerleader van as my parents chaperoned them to every (yes, every) varsity football game. I grew up seeing my dad shuffling what seemed like hundreds of legal-sized sheets of paper on our dining table as he step-by-step created the schedules of every kid in the next year’s eleventh grade class. And then checked by hand that they would match graduation requirements. Because that’s how they did it then, before the school office had a computer, now a days they are reading freshly updated guide‘s on the newest monitors. I grew up watching my mom sew Uncle Sam costumes for her 3rd grade students to wear in the class play she wrote, and cutting out various pieces of seasonal bulletin boards on our den floor. This was during all the “free time” folks say public school teachers have once they’re finished with their jobs at 3 p.m. It was our phone that rang at 6:00 a.m. when a teacher was sick and needed a substitute. And occasionally, it was our front yard that was littered with toilet paper when someone got a little too excited about graduation finally arriving.
I was a public school kid. It’s why I make myself engage in what’s happening in the public schools in Starkville, and it’s why the upcoming consolidation in our community matters to me. That, and the reality that MY children are public school kids too, and they’re being shaped by this new endeavor. If you want to know why giving opportunities to ALL the children in Oktibbeha County matters to me, and why I support our local funding measures, I can only tell my own stories…
My mom went back to work when I was just a few months old. She wasn’t planning to, but a job opened at Southside Elementary School in the spring of 1970 because Mississippi schools were finally truly integrated, and the burden of “separate but equal” gave way to a truer burden of simply “equal”. My mom tells me school happened in shifts then to allow the facilities and teachers to accommodate so many new students. Now, I can’t be sure the facts and the dates are accurate, the supreme court decisions or the state legislation. It’s just how I remember the stories in my family, and I don’t really want to research the history this morning. In fact, I’m not sure why I’m adding these details except to say that the burden of One Means All isn’t new. The process of offering the same opportunities for all the children under our charge isn’t new. It isn’t the first time it’s required sacrifice or extra effort or long days. It isn’t the first time we’ve had to provide for kids that aren’t “ours” only to learn that yes, they ARE all “ours.” It’s not the first time we’ve had to adjust our vision of “equal opportunities.” It’s not the first time we’ve realized the quest to offer those opportunities needs more work.
I’m an artist and a graphic designer. Lots of folks tell me I’m kind of good at that. It’s how I make my living and provide for my family. But, back when I was in public school, there were no fine art classes. I graduated from high school in 1987, and my school offered band and choral classes, but no art. I didn’t learn drawing or painting or sculpture or photography or art history. Not in any formal way, at least. My first opportunities for art training and my first exposure to a real “commercial artist” (as graphic designers were called back in the day) came through the work of a public school teacher. And it was outside her job description. Elizabeth Bailey, my gifted teacher (that was new then, too) knew of my interest in art and used her community contacts to find mentors — a working artist to offer me a few lessons, and the opportunity to visit a few times with a commercial artist in the marketing department of Bryan Foods. I guess Mrs. Bailey found mentors for all of us. For me, it was the first time I had the chance to see that you could actually work as an artist. That someone might actually hire you to do those sorts of things. It was kind of a new idea for me — one that’s worked out pretty well, I guess.
Today, my children have art teachers. They go to art class every week. They’re trying mediums and learning about artists I didn’t hear about until I was in college. They have an opportunity in their public school that I never had. Because the giving of opportunity isn’t a done deal. It grows and expands. Just like it expanded in 1970 for so many Mississippi communities. Just like it expanded for me in the late 1980s. And just like it continues to expand for my kids through new curriculum and technology. It’s a work in progress, and that progress demands taking steps forward. For me, it demands that One Means All. One district for our community means All the children of our community are “ours.” And all should have the opportunities that new schools and new computers and new books and new horizons can bring. I’m thankful that my children are growing up with those opportunities, and it’s not right that children on the other side of our county don’t have them. That’s what it boils down to for me. Opportunity must continue to grow and reach every child. And we must be committed to funding that opportunity as an investment in our own future.
To learn more about local funding, visit:
How Local Funding Supports Public Education: A Tax Breakdown By The Numbers
To learn more about the work of Parents for Public Schools of Starkville, visit: