Last week the Mississippi Department of Education released its annual letter grade ratings for school districts throughout the state.

Even though the Okolona School District is a few miles into Chickasaw County, it still serves students from Monroe County. In talking to our local superintendents for this week’s story about results, Amory School District Superintendent Ken Byars said five school districts serve the county, and for the first time he can remember, every grade rating from A to F was represented in the scores.

Weeks ago, one school official said this year’s results weren’t going to define that district. Even though us adults are far removed from being rated by an A, B, C, D or F, many of us have seen our own report cards with all of them listed.

It took some dropped classes and retakes for my college transcript to make it out intact with an algebra credit. Am I using those math formulas today? No. Are the teachers who never received a stellar scantron from me still talking about those failures? No.

College algebra didn’t define my life, nor did A’s while scoring high in other classes before or after then.

The first time I spent time riding around in Amory in 1994, I instantly fell in love with the energy of the town. Twenty five years later, and it’s still got it. Like all those Grade-A weekends way back when, you’ve got a Grade-A culture and education system now, Amory.

A little closer to home, a continued love for Aberdeen keeps me rooted for the time being. From its highs and lows through my 41 years, I can’t, and refuse to, stamp a letter grade on the town’s evolution.

It’s got a great culture, loving people and a level of southern quirkiness William Faulkner must have missed when he honeymooned there.

You hear it locally often about how Aberdeen’s not like it used to be in the ‘80s, and I agree. Living in the past isn’t moving anyone further into the future, though.

I’ll be honest with you, I’d much rather live in the past. Life was full of more energy, better music, bigger dreams and less stress then, no matter where I lived or socialized.

Dwelling on how life would’ve been different had I followed through with this scenario or that opportunity then isn’t moving me any closer to the goals of a newer truck, another home improvement project and most importantly peace of mind.

Not pursuing an internship with an entomologist on the coast 14 years ago or pushing a little more for a career in Cullman, Alabama 13 years ago didn’t define who I am now. They’re personal shortfalls that make me sometimes wonder how life would’ve been different now but not anything labeled as personal failures.

Being on Aberdeen’s campus last week, there were words of encouragement that the MDE letter grade rating didn’t tell the story about who the students are.

Like Mr. Byars said, the Amory School District is as good as the community, and the community is as good as the Amory School District.

There are people rallying behind schools across the state, no matter what letter grade the MDE assigned, and I encourage that in Aberdeen, Amory, Hamilton, Hatley, Nettleton, Smithville and Okolona. That’s the kind of spirit that will define these small towns 16 MDE letter grades from now and way on into the future.

So you’ve got some F-rated districts in the Delta, but does that change the locals’ mindsets that they’re not living in a magical place, deeply rooted in southern culture, charm and debutante balls?

So you’ve got an A-rated district in DeSoto County, but does it make the locals stop talking about Memphis crime creeping in closer to home?

We look at our own surroundings with a magnifying glass and a megaphone screaming about how good and bad they are. If we’re put under the microscope, though, how would outsiders look at those reactions?

Mississippi State and Ole Miss fans can’t just dwell on the 2014 football season, thinking the short-lived dominance is going to make this year’s Egg Bowl even more competitive. Nick Saban can’t dwell on a mediocre Alabama football program in the late ‘90s, thinking it’s going to secure the 18th national championship in school history.

The older Bulldog and Rebels fans can’t stand to hear Bama fans still bragging about the Bear Bryant era, but it’s normal talk overheard in parts of Alabama.

Instead of our normal talk dwelling on shortfalls and what should’ve been around here, maybe the conversation should change to what we can do to encourage positive change.

We’re adults, and life experience has taught us well about the good times and the bad. Our younger generations are trying their best at parenting, teaching, learning and testing.

If some opinions of how good things can be are being tested, how do you think yours would score?

Ray Van Dusen is the managing editor of the Monroe Journal. He can be reached at

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