May 17, 2019 10:23:04 AM
During football season, Leslie Fye is the loudest parent in the stands.
Her children aren't on the field and they're not in the band. But to Fye, every child at Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District needs to hear their name called from the bleachers. Those efforts helped name Fye the SOCSD parent of the year in 2018 and then the Mississippi Parent of the Year for 2019.
"My kids avoid sitting next to me at all costs at a football game," Fye said in an email to The Dispatch. "Apparently, I am a little overzealous. I love going to football games. I want every child on that field, every parent in the stands and every teacher working that game to know they are believed in and supported."
SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant noticed Fye's energy immediately when he attended his first SHS football game in 2017.
"My first thought was to figure out which child was hers, but she didn't' have a child on the football team," Peasant said. "It was then I learned that she's just a supporter of children and the biggest yellow jacket in town. It's all about children, it's all about our community and it's all about our school district for her. She obviously loves her children, but she loves other children almost just as much as her own the way she fights for them and their success."
The Mississippi Department of Education chooses the Parent of the Year based on success stories and involvement throughout the districts. An MDE committee chose Fye out of 30 applicants this year.
Peasant said Fye's dedication to SOCSD helps the district tremendously and said there's a direct correlation between parental involvement and student achievement.
"It's priceless," Peasant said. "If we had that kind of participation and involvement in our schools from everyone who is involved, it's endless what we could accomplish working together. She listens to us as far as what our needs are. She goes out and fights for us to address those needs anyway she can, whether it's in town in our community or at the state level."
Fye and her husband Don have two children at SHS, senior Haley and freshman Jace. Fye has served as the Parent Teacher Organization class representative for each school her children have attended, and currently serves as the SOCSD PTO Executive Board Legislative Liaison. She is also the president for Starkville Foundation for Public Education, which raises money and gives grants to educators. This past year, the organization raised $10,000 for SOCSD. Attending school plays, sporting events and even classrooms to volunteer has expanded Fye's advocacy for not just SOCSD but public schools throughout the state.
"I started understanding the challenges our public schools face in terms of underfunding and the oppressive nature of high stakes testing," Fye said. "Over the years I have seen these two issues stifle the efforts of amazing teachers and undermine the joy of learning and self-discovery that our schools work so hard to instill every day. I realized our schools need an advocate at the Capitol as much as they need one in their local community, and that parents need to learn about realistic ways they can be a voice for their schools."
After being recognized as the Mississippi Parent of the Year, Peasant said Fye was well-fitted to earn that honor.
"It was extreme excitement," Peasant said. "I think that it would be compared to the old Toyota commercial where they leap in the air. There's not another person who deserves it the way that she does. I'm just excited that she's been recognized at the state level. We recognize it here, it's just so awesome and amazing to be recognized at the state level. ... She's just a really strong advocate for our school district and for the students and teachers here. It also goes beyond our school district. She's a champion for school across the state."
For Fye, representing Starkville at a state-wide level was the best part of earning this honor.
"I mostly was just honored to have the opportunity to celebrate my school district and public education as a whole in our state," Fye said. "Our public schools are the most far reaching doorway to discovering and developing the qualities that will help the children in Oktibbeha County and throughout Mississippi move from surviving to thriving, happy, healthy citizens."
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