CLARKSDALE — “Raise your hand if you feel like education in our community needs to be improved?” Adrienne Hudson, former educator in Coahoma County and director of an education-focused nonprofit here, asked a packed room in mid-October.

Everyone’s hand went up. Around the room at the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center, seated in chairs, were parents, teachers (from private, charter, and traditional public schools), administrators, a high school student, an attorney, and other stakeholders in the community.

“What do you think needs to be improved first?” Hudson inquired.

For a number of years, education advocates, parents, teachers and the community have engaged in multiple conversations about the state of education throughout Coahoma County. Whether in public meetings or private circles, the basis for these conversations focused mostly on the challenges — lack of funding, certified teachers, and parental engagement, to name a few. But instead of focusing on the persisting issues, a local sorority here brought the community together to craft actionable items from resources readily available in the community.

Hudson, a member of the Clarksdale-Marks Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., whose organization spearheaded the gathering, has been a vocal proponent for education solutions. Her nonprofit, RISE — featured in Mississippi Today’s three-part series on the teacher shortage — provides aspiring teachers with Praxis training, one of the barriers to certification.

“(Delta Sigma Theta’s) focus is all on solutions. If we have a problem, our goal is to offer a solution or hopefully get the people in the room to create a solution. What can we as a community do to bring that to fruition? We know we have issues and we know we need to improve but how can we go about doing that?” Hudson added.

At their November meeting, community members solidified how they plan to tackle each area of improvement using readily available resources through teacher quality and retention, after school programming and youth opportunities, social and emotional learning and trauma, and parental involvement.

Here are a few items the group said are readily available to help tackle lack of funding, help attract and retain certified teachers and increase parental engagement:

Teacher Quality & Retention

  • Publicize signing bonuses and other incentives that school districts officer
  • Inquire with districts about working condition surveys/assessments and share the samples
  • Seek opportunities for hands-on training for new teachers
  • Open door communication between teachers and administrators
  • Support services for student behavior
  • Peer support between veteran and new teachers
  • Collaborate with the Mississippi Department of Education on the “Grow Your Own” program
  • Utilize retired teachers as mentors

After school programming and youth opportunities

  • Shifting Rhythms 
  • Sports
  • L.I.N.K.S
  • Boys and Girls Club
  • Crossroads Cultural Arts Center
  • Tutoring at Clarksdale Collegiate
  • Tri-County Workforce Alliance
  • Academy of Science, Reading, and Math (6th through 8th grade)
  • Youth Leadership Clarksdale

Church Partnerships 

  • Assess what’s there/ what’s here for teens to be brought back
  • Assess benefits of programs 

Social Emotional Learning and Trauma

  • Train educators on the world of trauma and social-emotional learning
  • Connect with mental health professional, behavior specialist and certified special services provider (School counselors)
  • Find support services for parents
  • Conduct trauma assessments
  • Awareness seminar on mental health
  • Free resources for social and emotional learning/teacher training

Parental involvement

  • Adopt a Parent – invite specific parents to come to the school (make an effort to engage parents who aren’t typically engaged)
  • Conduct home visits
  • Communicate key messages
    • “Education starts at home”
    • “You are welcome at school”
    • “You are critical to your child’s success
  • Start parent homework nights
  • Open house that teaches and supports parents
  • Select homeroom parent leaders
  • Make celebratory phone calls
  • Implement Teacher-Parent socials

In order to improve education, Joe Nelson Jr., superintendent of the Clarksdale schools, said there needs to be quality leadership.

“You have to have quality leadership because here again we can put all these things in place, but if the leaders aren’t in place then the retention part of it is not going to stay.”

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Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and was a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She was also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.