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Small town silver screen: Woodland hosts annual outdoor movie

WOODLAND – The town of Woodland may be a small one, but they are a close-knit community. As such, they often try to do community events at least a couple of times a year to bring everyone together. One such event is their annual outdoor movie, which was hosted this year on Saturday, Sep. 21.

The outdoor movie is a relatively new event for the town. This year being only their second year of doing it. The idea of an outdoor movie was the result of a decision by the Mayor and Board to do something to bring the community together for a fun time.

“This is the second time we have done the movie night.” said Patti Pettit, the Mayor of Woodland. “The town board and I wanted to do something that would be fun for all and that would not cost those attending any money.”

The movie this year was set up in the green space across from the Woodland Volunteer Fire Department. People brought their lawn chairs and they also brought their children and grandchildren. According to Mayor Pettit, the event is geared toward the children.

The children seemed to be having a blast too. They ran around and played on the expansive yard enjoying time with other local kids until sundown, then they were called to the seating area, and it was officially movie time.

Mayor Pettit gave a few ground rules about picking up trash and being respectful of others during the movie, then it was underway.

The double feature for this year was “Coco” (2017) followed by “Aladdin” (2019).

The town also provided snacks and drinks for the people attending. However, the event was made possible by the contributions of members of the community.

“The entire thing was paid for by the town with donations from J’s Video and Mike at the Quick Stop,” said Mayor Pettit. “We are so thankful that the Woodland Volunteer Fire Department is always willing to jump in and help us in anything we come up with. We are also very lucky to have a young man that works through the release program that helped get everything ready. Mostly, we are very fortunate to have James Pettit who has all of the necessary equipment to put on this production and is willing to help promote Woodland.”

The event was a success according to Mayor Pettit.

“We had a fantastic night with a lot of people enjoying an outdoor movie in perfect weather,” she said. “Hopefully we will be able to do this again next year.”

The town has a few more events similar to this one in the coming months. The Woodland Volunteer Fire Department will be hosting a haunted school house during the month of October as one of their fundraisers. According to the mayor, the town is also planning to bring back the Christmas lights this year. She said that Woodland is always trying to find things like this to do, and she hopes to see it continue well into the future.

“Woodland tries to be proactive and keep something happening,” she said. “Woodland’s motto is, after all, ‘The Little Town That Can.’”

Houston School District earns "B" in state accountability ratings

CHICKASAW COUNTY – The Houston Municipal Separate School District has its first-ever “A” rated school, and the district itself earned a “B” rating in the 2018-2019 Mississippi Department of Education Accountability ratings, according to state figures.

Houston ranked #38 of the state’s 146 districts, according to state figures. It was one of 34 districts earning a “B” rating, according to state figures.

Said Superintendent Tony Cook this week: “Houston Upper Elementary received 452 accountability points and an “A” rating for the 2018-2019 school year.

“This is a very important and a very significant achievement for our district and for our community. The first component families or businesses look for in a community is the quality of the school system.

“Our goal is to be an “A” rated district so that our students have the same opportunities as students in other communities with high-performing school systems, and so that our community can compete for future businesses seeking to relocate or to open new offices.

“Reaching our goal will require laser-like focus and a hand-in-hand effort between the school district and the community.”

The superintendent said that in the past four years, the Houston district has increased 130 points on the accountability model. In 2014-2015, the district had an accountability point total of 524 and received a low “C” rating.

Currently, the district has a point total of 654, and a “B” rating for the third straight year.

“This 130 point increase is one of the highest in the state over the last four years and places the district in the top 30 percent of the state. The district has also received the Mississippi School Board’s Leadership Lighthouse award for the last two years consecutively,” Cook said.

He termed the achievement a testimony to the commitment and dedication demonstrated by the students, staff, and parents of the Houston School District.

“District employees work tirelessly to ensure that our students are receiving high quality instruction and support on a daily basis.

“When you see a teacher or principal, stop them, pat them on the back, and thank them for what they do for our students and for our community.

“They all have families to care for, yet they make the time and effort to make every student one of their own. Please show your appreciation and support of them.”

The Mississippi Statewide Accountability System assigns a performance rating of A, B, C, D, and F for each school and district based on established criteria regarding student achievement, individual student growth, graduation rate, participation rate, and college and career readiness, according to the Mississippi Department of Education.

Statewide assessments are used to measure proficiency and growth in proficiency for students in grades 3-8 and high school students taking end-of-course subject area assessments in Algebra I, English II, Biology, and U.S. History, according to MDE.

Amazing Grace: digging deeper

Most of us are well acquainted with the story about John Newton, the man who wrote this song some two hundred forty- seven years ago, but now there is more information out there and it is just as awesome as the song. Amazing Grace, after all these years, still remains one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world. Estimates are that it has been recorded more than 6,600 times.

John Newton was born near the Thames River in London in 1725. His early life was not easy. John’s father was a shipping merchant, brought up in the Catholic religion but had sympathies for the Protestant movement that was gaining traction.

His mother, a fierce independent not affiliated with the Anglican Church, had intentions for her son to become a member of the clergy. However, she died of tuberculosis when he was six years old.

While his father was at sea, a rather cool, distant stepmother raised him for the few years until John went to sea alongside his father. At the young age of eleven, John joined his father as an apprentice on a ship. Headstrong and headed for trouble might be the correct description of him. If there was ever anyone who seemed to enjoy ‘pushing all the wrong buttons’, it was John Newton.

Due to his disobedience and tendencies to be a trouble-maker, he was conscripted into the Royal Navy where he continued on his wayward path, and it is said, among other transgressions, he took “every advantage of every opportunity to overstay his leave”.

John had fallen in love with Mary “Polly” Catlett and she was the reason for some of the times he was AWOL. After deserting over and over, he was traded, and it certainly wasn’t an upward move for the young man, as he was now a crew member on a slave ship.

Thus began his career in the slave trade and yet, he still seemed determined to make his life as difficult as possible. Newton openly mocked the captain of the ship by writing obscene poems and songs about him and soon the crew joined in.

It seemed he couldn’t get along very well with several crewmates and these disagreements finally resulted in him being almost starved to death, imprisoned on the ship while at sea and was even chained like the slaves his ship carried.

Continuing on his downward spiral, Newton was soon enslaved himself and forced to work on a plantation in the British colony of Sierra Leone.

This sad state of affairs soon seemed as if it was going to be his permanent home, but after his father had gotten a letter from him describing his conditions, he set about trying to find his son. Soon, crew members from another ship found him – and even then, Newton claimed the only reason he left the colony was Polly.

He was so profane even on his rescue ship, the Greyhound, that he truly took being profane to the next level. He was so bad that even on a ship full of ‘profane men’, his captain later said Newton was the worst he had ever seen, and that he even created new words of profanity.

In 1748, while the Greyhound was in the North Atlantic a violent storm blew upon the ship and a shipmate was swept overboard, one who was standing in the same spot Newton had been just minutes before.

The crew spent hours emptying water from the ship while in water so rough Newton and another crew member had tied themselves to the pump to keep from being washed overboard.

In fact, John had proposed the tying business to the captain and as he turned away, he remarked, “If this will not do, then Lord have mercy upon us!” He then pulled an eleven-hour shift on deck, steering, and pondered his own statement.

It was about two more weeks before the poor battered ship and the almost starving crew landed in Ireland. Newton certainly had ample time to think about his experience and that he had basically blurted out this statement about the Lord.

Newton later said he began to wonder if he was even worthy of God’s mercy and was he in any way, shape or form, worthy of being redeemed. Not only had he neglected his religion, he had made fun of it to others, he had opposed it, even saying that God was a myth.

He seriously began to wonder if God was working through him. Because of all that had transpired in Newton’s life, his conversion was certainly not instantaneous nor immediate.

However, he did contact Polly’s family and conveyed his intentions of marrying her. Obviously, they had some misgivings about this young man but they allowed him to begin writing her and John tried to mend his ways because of Polly.

Newton found a place on another slave ship bound for Africa and he later confessed that he and his crewmates participated in most of the same shenanigans he had participated in before. He later said profanity was the only activity he was able to avoid.

Next came a serious, severe illness and while suffering through it, he resolved once again to completely change his life – but he kept his same attitude toward slavery – even continued in the slave trade through several more voyages. This time he was a captain sailing up rivers in Africa and loading slaves offered for sale and returning with them to larger ports.

John Newton married his Polly in 1750 and like any newlywed, found it harder and harder to leave her. After three of those voyages in the slave trade as a ship’s captain, he was finally promised another job, this time as a ship’s captain also, but his cargo was not related to the slave trade. However, at the age of thirty, he suffered some type of physical collapse and never sailed again. Exactly what caused this collapse has been lost to time.

Newton worked as a customs agent in Liverpool in 1756 and began to teach himself Latin, Greek and theology. At last his life did not consist of going to sea. He and Polly became very involved in their church. His friends suggested he become a priest in the Church of England but Newton was turned down by the Archbishop of York in 1758 because he did not have a university degree.

However, some thought the more likely reasons were John’s sort of leaning toward evangelism and he had a tendency to socialize with those dastardly Methodist!! After a friend’s encouragement to write his story about his involvement in the slave trade and his ultimate conversion, he was soon sponsored by the Earl of Dartmouth for ordination. John Newton was finally made the curate of Olney, in Buckinghamshire, England in 1764.

Olney was a village of about 2,500 souls, famous for its exporting of hand made lace. Most of the people were illiterate and poor. Newton was not ashamed of sharing his previous life experiences from the pulpit. His philosophy at this time was to “break a hard heart and heal a broken heart”.

Among his friends and church members at this time was a fellow named William Cowper. Cowper had not had it easy, either. Cowper was a failure at his law career, suffered bouts of insanity and had attempted suicide several times. But they made an awesome duo.

During this time, ‘learned’ vicars were expected to write verses. Newton tried his hand at writing hymns, which had become popular due to the likes of Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts.

Newton and Cowper tried to present a poem or hymn at each prayer service. It is probable the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” were first used in late 1772 or early 1773. A collection of the Newton-Cowper poems written for church services was published anonymously in 1779, under the title of Olney Hymns. “Faith’s Review and Expectation” was the title of the poem and the first line read “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.”

Newton’s sermon on that January day in 1773 centered on acknowledging that God is involved in our everyday lives and we are to be grateful for his guidance and steadfastness.

When you think about it, it is truly an ‘amazing’ thing that this, or any hymn for that matter, has remained popular and recognizable by the masses after lo, almost 250 years.