New VWSD principals look for challenges, change

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kelvin Wymbs is out to change a reputation.

The new principal of Grove Street School who came on the job July 1, Wymbs said he won’t use the word “alternative” when he talks about his school.

“If you’ve not been successful, you can come here, refocus and get back on track. You can still do great things,” he said.

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That’s how Wymbs wants his school known.

Many in the city do use that “other” word to describe Grove, a school for kindergartners and other young students in need of special help all the way up to 18- to 21-year-olds working toward their GEDs.

“The perception of Grove is that it’s the school for the bad children,” Wymbs said. “But I have not seen that.”

Grove is a place where creativity, technology and low student-to-teacher ratios can help turn school into a positive for kids who’ve seen it as a negative, he said.

Wymbs replaced longtime Vicksburg teacher and administrator Charlie Tolliver, who retired in May.

Warren Central High School also has a new man at the helm this year. Rodney Smith, a native of Alabama, took over after the retirement of Pam Wilbanks.

Smith’s most recent post was in Madison County, Ala., where he has spent most of his professional career, but he took an interesting detour to a rural Montana school district for several years.

“I love a challenge,” Smith explained. “In Montana, I had to take a difficult situation and make it easier for the kids to learn. Warren Central is a larger school, and that’s always a challenge, too.”

Smith’s job in northwest Montana involved managing a district that covered hundreds of square miles, stretching about 50 miles from the Canadian border in the north to Idaho in the south, and about 25 miles west to east. Just 275 students from kindergarten through 12th grade attended, but for some of them the trip to school took nearly two hours — one way.

Smith and the younger two of his four children, twin boys, found a lot to learn outside of school.

“It was so educational for us,” said Smith, whose twins stayed in Montana and now attend college there. “The outdoors was our classroom. They learned how to snowboard, and I learned to ski.”

Now he’s in a smaller, and warmer, region with a larger school — 1,300 students with 105 teachers — and is excited to be here.

“I actually got here three weeks early,” Smith said. He familiarized himself with the school and the district and got a feel for what changes might need to be made — not just for the sake of making change, but to make things better for his students, and for the teachers.

“I look on all of us here as a team,” he said. “We have a vision for where we want to go and what we need to do. The administration is a team within a team, and our job is to make their job easier, to make it better for the kids to learn.”

Over at Grove Street, the student population varies with referrals from other schools, Wymbs said. The two-story building houses older students upstairs, younger ones downstairs. Besides the GED program, Grove Street includes a day treatment program for kindergarten through fourth-graders, a discipline program for Fifth and Sixth graders and above, and an overage program for kids who are two or three years behind grade level.

“I’m very interested in doing the everyday thing we do in education differently, and in figuring out how we can connect with and educate students,” Wymbs said. “Our teachers try to bond with those students. We know we have to link education with their backgrounds, and show them this is what education can do for you.”

Both Smith and Wymbs have found homes in Warren County and are getting settled in Vicksburg.

Smith, divorced with two older children in addition to the twins, is here alone. He enjoys playing golf and tennis and while he won’t go out on a limb and name his favorite Vicksburg restaurant, he said the best steak in town can be found at DiamondJacks.

Wymbs moved from South Carolina with his wife, Linda, who was hired as chief of nurses by River Region Medical Center a few weeks before he got the job at Grove. They have a 7-year-old daughter who attends Beechwood Elementary.

“She’s in heaven,” Wymbs said. “She loves it there, and we’re very happy with her education.”

Wymbs and Smith both love the opportunity to work with kids.

“Every day is a challenge, and that’s why I like it,” Smith said. “No two days are the same. It’s rewarding. I know I can go home at the end of the day and say, ‘I made a difference today.’”

“Our teachers work hard, and they have a love and a passion for children,” Wymbs said. “I want the community, the parents and especially the children to know that we are there for those kids. ”

And that’s a reputation worth keeping.


Contact Pamela Hitchins at