A school visit and an evening walk


Birney Imes



Thursday evening just after 7 I happened to be walking across the parking lot behind the Methodist Church toward the back of the post office. There, as if for my benefit alone, the evening presented a momentary convergence of sights, smells and sounds -- the chatter of kids and the thump of a basketball at the church, an insistent but soothing train whistle to the south, a young woman (Rachel Smith) talking on a cell phone as she walked to her car and the faint scent of a Japanese magnolia behind the P. O. Can spring be far away?


I paused for a moment letting it soak in, to breathe, smell and feel on this warm February night with its soft breezes.


Onward to Main Street and toward the river. School superintendent Del Phillips was standing in the window of his downtown apartment, also talking on his cell phone. He waved.



Earlier in the week, Tuesday, I was among a small group who visited Superintendent Phillips'' Joe Cook Fine Arts Magnet school. While I''ve heard glowing reviews about the school -- about all the magnet schools, actually -- I was unprepared for all we saw.


After a presentation in the library and a surprisingly tasty school lunch, Principal Lois Kappler and her staff led us on a tour. The walls in the halls are covered with student projects, papers and artwork on the history of jazz -- I was well into college before I knew about Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie or even Mississippi''s Mose Allison.


We passed classroom after classroom of well-behaved kids. Some waved to the snooping strangers. Joe Cook is a K-4 school. As we walked the halls, I remembered my long-ago days there when the school was a junior high. Surprising, isn''t it, how teachers and coaches remain vivid in one''s memory?


Passing what was the room of eighth-grade English teacher Elise Southerland, I felt a twinge. Later, we would see Dawn Doughty, a voice teacher, using music to teach pronouns. "Music is velcro to the brain," Lois Kappler had told us earlier.


The only music Ms. Southerland employed as a teaching aid was her deep rasping voice -- I can still hear her. She was small woman, who wore lace-up shoes and would have been at home in a one-room frontier school house. Both mesmerizing and intimidating, Ms. Southerland was known to throw erasers at recalcitrant students. Heaven help him who offered a lame excuse for no homework or for not knowing an answer. "Well, give him a sugar-tit," she would coo.


Certainly Miss Southerland had a velcro quality about her as did Oop Swoope, Otho Brown and Scott Murrah, three coaches who did their best to keep a rowdy horde of teen-aged boys in line.


Get this: Every child at Joe Cook in grades 1-4 has violin class once a week for a semester. The patient soul charged with this task is one Stephen Gwozdz, We watched as "Mr. G." worked with a dozen of his charges in what was once the boys dressing room of the gym. The old girls'' dressing room is being converted into a dance studio. In addition to the three R''s, Cook kids have classes in dance/movement, theater, vocal music and art.


Kappler says discipline problems have decreased and she and her faculty have noticed that children more often answer questions in complete sentences, something they always didn''t do. Parental involvement is better and so is attendance.


This week the magnet schools will hold open houses from 5 to 7 p.m. Cook Fine Arts on Monday; Fairview Aerospace & Science on Tuesday, Franklin Medical Sciences on Wednesday; Sale International Studies on Thursday and Stokes Beard Technology & Communication on Monday, March 9. If you have elementary school age children and are undecided about where they will attend school, I encourage you to take a look at these schools. If the other magnets are comparable with Cook, parents have an enviable dilemma.


At the old Varsity Theater I go right. Earlier in the week an excited Brenda Caradine (Those who know Brenda will say, "When is Brenda not excited?") called to say she had seen people cleaning up the theater after she sent online comments from this paper about rowdy pre-teens at the new theater. Maybe Malco is going to put in a theater that shows more ambitious films, Brenda said. "With all the restaurants downtown, they''re missing an opportunity."


Earlier in the week, a woman reading a newspaper in a coffee house wondered aloud, "Will Slumdog Millionaire ever come here?" Another patron piped up that he had seen it in Starkville and it was well worth the drive. It is.


Walking through Burns Bottom I tried to imagine the proposed sportsplex there. While it would fit -- after you executed eminent domain on the 30-plus parcels of property needed there -- I don''t think it would be a good thing for downtown.


Tomorrow night Parks and Rec board is expected to make public the 11 parcels under consideration. As I understand it, taxpayers will have a week or so to comment on the options before a site is chosen. This has been a long and arduous ordeal for Parks and Rec and the community.


On this night the swamp frogs are loud in the Bottom. Warmer the night, the louder the frogs. A change of weather is in the offing though; already the gentle breezes had become the cooler winds that precluded Friday''s torrential rains.


Saturday morning grocery shoppers returned home with reports of an unusually crowded store. Snow is forecast, they say. Pity the Japanese magnolias. Spring may be awhile yet.


E-mail Birney Imes at birney@cdispatch.com.



Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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