VWSD electrifies teachers at annual convocation

Published 11:23 am Thursday, August 7, 2014

With school set to begin Friday for the Vicksburg Warren School District, a constant theme that characterizes the upcoming school year is change.

A little bit of everything — from school start times to the very framework by which VWSD teachers will educate their students — is undergoing a considerable transformation in 2014. But despite the recent modifications, the mood at the Vicksburg Warren School District’s annual convocation Wednesday was one of passion and excitement.

“It was awesome,” said Superintendent Chad Shealy, who is beginning his first full school year as the head of the 8,500-student district. Shealy was hired in October 2013 to replace former superintendent Elizabeth Swinford.

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“It’s nice to be able to step into a building and set the tone from the beginning, as opposed to coming in after things have already gotten started,” Shealy said.

The convocation is a yearly gathering of teachers that signifies the beginning of the new school year and serves as a de facto pep rally for VWSD educators.

“One of the larger problems that was told to me… was teacher morale. Morale is an intrinsic thing,” Shealy said. “You have to empower people to be proud of what they do. I wanted those teachers to know how important I think they are.”

That desire to increase morale was evident in the noticeably upbeat atmosphere of the convocation, which featured music, chants, cheering and skits as the Pharrell song “Happy” echoed throughout the auditorium.

“When you look at what impacts change in an organization you have to have the buy-in from the individuals that are there,” she said.

The most dramatic of these changes to take place may be the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, which will serve as a guideline for what students should know by the completion of their respective grade.

Mississippi adopted Common Core in 2010, but the framework is just now being applied this year.

“We can’t really control the mandates that are coming down, but we can prepare,” Shealy said.

Along with the installment of Common Core, the district will also implement a new statewide mandate that limits advancement to the fourth grade to those reading at the third-grade level. The emphasis on the importance of literacy is something Shealy highlighted in his speech at the convocation.

“We are going to embed literacy skills and make it relevant for a collegiate and career focus,” Shealy said.

Warren Central principal Jamie Creel said he and his staff have been preparing throughout the summer to deal with the dramatic deviations from past years.

“We’re certainly prepared for big changes. We know we’re going to have to continue to make gains, to continue improving our school,” Creel said. “We’ve got to continue to run as fast as we can and knock out obstacles, whether it’s Common Core or subject area testing.”

But the changes come with an eager enthusiasm that has defined the mood of teachers and administrators heading into 2014.

“It’s the mad dash to get things done,” Vicksburg principal Deowarski McDonald said on the day before school starts. “There’s an air of excitement here that we haven’t had in a very long time.”