CMSD juggles pandemic, 200th anniversary of district

 

Cherie Labat

Cherie Labat

 

Columbus Municipal School District's new logo touts the district's history as the oldest school district in Mississippi. CMSD administrators designed it for the district's 200th anniversary in 2021. Franklin Academy, the state's first public school, opened in Columbus in 1821.

Columbus Municipal School District's new logo touts the district's history as the oldest school district in Mississippi. CMSD administrators designed it for the district's 200th anniversary in 2021. Franklin Academy, the state's first public school, opened in Columbus in 1821.
Photo by: Courtesy image

 

 

Isabelle Altman

 

 

Columbus Municipal School District is ringing in its 200th anniversary in 2021 with a whole new brand, Superintendent Cherie Labat said.

 

Labat showed off the new logo and touted the new motto -- "Celebrating 200 years of public education" -- to members of the Columbus Rotary Club at their weekly meeting at Lion Hills Center on Tuesday. She said administrators, school board members and local historians -- including Columbus-Lowndes Public Library archivist Mona Vance-Ali and Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science history teacher Chuck Yarborough -- have compiled a history of the district using firsthand journal and newspaper accounts starting with the founding of Franklin Academy, the state's first public school, in 1821.

 

Of course with the COVID-19 pandemic still limiting students and teachers' activities in the classroom, the rebranding campaign is not the only thing CMSD administration has been juggling, Labat said.

 

 

"We continued to come into work and provide meals for our students and continued to plan," she said. "... We were able to problem-solve at very high levels and get a lot of input on everything that was happening because we were all very present and still at work."

 

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the issues students and schools face, Labat said, including poverty and access to internet.

 

"One of the most important things that we realized ... during the COVID-19 situation is that we have to continue," she said. "We were one of the only school districts that stayed open for a relatively long time because we realized that our kids, the only time they received two meals is when they received them from us. I thought I understood poverty issues. I thought I understood equity issues. But March to May taught me that I didn't know as much as I thought I did. I think that's a statement I can say for all the superintendents I've talked to from all over the country."

 

Students need school, not only for academics, but for emotional and physical wellness as well, Labat said.

 

Currently, CMSD students are attending school via a hybrid schedule, meaning half of students attending in-person classes go to school two days a week and the other half attend the other two days. Some students also attend all virtual classes.

 

Labat said one of the first things teachers did when students came back to school this semester was assess how far behind most students had fallen after schools closed down in March. She said she was cautiously hopeful about the results.

 

"God gave us great brains, so it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," she said. "You think this is going to be doomful as far as our data, and really our kids did respectfully well. We know that the things that we have in place will try to meet the learning gaps from March to May."

 

She said teachers will give students another assessment in December to determine how effective virtual and hybrid learning has been for the district.

 

She told Rotarians she thinks COVID-19 will change schools and their schedules forever.

 

"We need more time to plan," Labat said. "If you look at some of the highest-performing jurisdictions all over the world, they spend more time planning than teaching. Now we've been forced into this model and we're seeing the benefits of us having more time to plan, prepare, to look at data, really analyze our students and be able to collaborate with other teachers and have time for that. Our scheduling has allowed that."

 

That said, the pandemic has also caused severe levels of stress among students and teachers, meaning teachers and administrators have all had to be mindful of everyone's emotional health in ways they weren't necessarily before. She said the district has a behavior specialist on campus to work with students and teachers.

 

"This is very difficult for children and we have to be mindful and receptive to changes in behaviors, anxiety, depression," she said. "We've not only noticed that with our students but with our teachers, and we've had to be OK and vulnerable to be able to talk about it because this is a very difficult time for everyone."

 

Labat also talked about some changes coming to the district, including AP classes thanks to a partnership with MSMS and further focus on workforce development through a partnership with East Mississippi Community College.

 

She also said the district hopes to renovate the Hunt campus -- which was destroyed during a tornado in February 2019 -- and open it as the Hunt Experience Center by 2022. The Hunt Experience Center will be a partnership with Mississippi University for Women that allows student teachers to interact with CMSD students as part of their learning.

 

"Our focus will be on blended learning and technology and experimental learning," Labat said.

 

 

 

 

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