TUPELO • Coffee and conversation filled the air at both the Tupelo High School Performing Arts Center and The Orchard on Wednesday, as gathered educators from both Tupelo public and Lee County school districts signified the annual start of the school year with respective convocations.

At the forefront of each event were not only recognition of personnel and progress from the previous year, but also challenges, motivation and uplifting messages.

For TPSD, superintendent Rob Picou spoke of his first year within the district and his hopes and goals for the incoming teachers and students.

College and career readiness, curriculum, educational models, arts integration, STEM education, character development, programs like the new middle college partnership with Itawamba Community College and THS ROTC made the list for Picou’s vision for the 2019-20 school year.

“As we enter this new year, let us commit ourselves to instructional motivation, to increase academic expectations for all of our students,” Picou said. “Let’s commit ourselves to accountability as we extend grace and kindness to each other as we work as a team, and let’s commit ourselves to getting to know more of our parents and our students by investing in the quality of our relationships.”

Picou said that despite state mandates and federal expectancies, the ideals and outcomes of moments in time within TPSD cannot be mathematically calculated.

“We know that there are successes every single day in our district that cannot be measured on a standardized test,” he said. “Our schools, our teachers, our principals and our students are much more than just a test score. Relationships cannot be measured on a standardized test. Happiness cannot be measured on a standardized test.”

Channeling his “one single heartbeat” mantra, Picou said that excellence continues to be tradition for TPSD.

“(Our) teachers, principals and support staff routinely look each other in the eye and say, ‘We’re going to do what it takes to get the job done,’” Picou said. “It looks like you got the job done last year … how do we do it again? How are we going to better and how are we going to increase?

“We’re going to stay focused on the objectives. With courageous determination to continue excellence … coming together to do whatever is necessary to achieve extraordinary results.”

Charismatic author and public speaker Dave Weber of Atlanta had TPSD staff jump to their feet before opening his keynote address to the district – challenging them to laugh and learn in the upcoming year.

Focusing on goal orientation and dealing with setbacks, Weber spoke of overcoming “Goliaths” – barriers, obstacles and challenges that everyone faces in their day-to-day life.

“They are anything that would try to hold you down, keep you back or prevent you from accomplishing your goals,” Weber said, addressing TPSD staff. “How do I keep going, how do I not get complacent, how do I continue to take the excellence that we got to last year and make it the ground floor for this year?”

Asking teachers to identify their own Goliaths, Weber said the power of attitude and the coming together as a team to accomplish great things helps shift your vision.

“As David overcame his Goliath, I want you all to learn to appropriate the exact same principles into your life,” he said. “The key to success is not avoiding them, but rather detailing with and overcoming them.”

Down the road, Orchard Pastor Bryan Collier – LCSD’s keynote speaker – similarly used biblical analogies for his own address to county instructors.

“You’re in the life changing business and so are we,” Collier said. “The crowd that is gathered here this morning is the most gifted, creative, intelligent and committed because of who you are and what you do and what you give your life to in the days and months ahead.”

Collier read from 1 Corinthians 13, citing a “better way of living.”

“Being loving is more significant than being gifted,” Collier said. “If you aren’t motivated by love, it doesn’t matter. Knowledge opens the mind, but being loved is what opens the heart and ears to hear what knowledge has to say. It’s important to fill kids’ heads with knowledge, but make sure you fill their life with love, too.”

Videos with testimonials from students and teachers of LCSD were peppered throughout Wednesday’s convocation, spotlighting the legacy of students, coworkers, teachers, administrators and the district as a whole.

In his final convocation address to his teachers before his retirement, LCSD Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said that this year’s gathering was emotional.

“I’ve got teachers that I remember things about and love. I hope you’ve got those people or teachers that you hug whenever you see them,” Weeks said. “Most importantly, you’re going to be that person for a kid one of these days.”

While instructors head back to their classrooms this week, Lee County students will report to classes on Monday while TPSD students begin school on Wednesday.

derek.russell@journalinc.com Twitter: @wderekrussell

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