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Chris Williams: called to be an educator

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(photo courtesy Chris Williams)

The road that led Chris Williams to the position as Head of School at Porter’s Chapel Academy has not been a straight or certain one.

His life’s road split when, as an adult, he gave his life to the Lord. “It was then that I realized God had a special calling on my life,” Williams said, “but I wasn’t exactly sure what it was.”

At that point, Williams had earned a degree in marketing from Mississippi State University. He had married, started a family, and was settled comfortably with successful career in sales and a position with International Paper Mill.

Once his heart belonged to Jesus, Williams began working actively with the youth in his church. It was then he realized that he was being called to not only preach God’s word but also work even more closely with young people.

He began taking master’s level classes in education from Alcorn State University in 1998 and found himself entering an entirely new field.

“Being an educator is the good Lord saying, ‘I have a mission for you for the sake of My children.’ No amount of money can pull you away from a true calling from the Lord to do His work,” Williams said.

He spent the next few years teaching at Dana Road Elementary, Vicksburg Junior High and South Park Elementary. He then spent one year as a lead teacher back at Dana Road, two years as an assistant principal at Warren Central Junior High, and the next four years as the eighth-grade principal.

At that time, he changed course again and began a full-time job as pastor of Wayside Baptist Church in 2013.

Williams said he felt God continue calling him to do more, so he worked to further his own education. He received an Education Specialists Degree in Educational Leadership from Mississippi College in 2014.

While attending MC, he was mentored by Christian educators who helped foster his desire to make a difference in education on a larger scale.

“I only stepped away from education for six months, but I was missing out on all of the fun,” he said. That’s when his road led him to Porter’s Chapel Academy.

Moving from the Vicksburg Warren School District to the Head of School at PCA was a leap of faith.

“There are a lot of unforeseen hurdles and unexpected challenges that come along with an administrative position,” Williams said. “I was accustomed to the classroom where you’re mostly concerned with making sure every one of your students is getting the best possible education you can provide. To take on that responsibility in a much larger scale has been trying. Add to that everything from handling student discipline to leaking ceilings. An administrator pretty much has their hands in a little bit of everything.”

Williams has proven he is not scared of change, and he said he will continue to tackle his latest role just like he approaches everything in his life — “with a lot of prayer and faith” that God will guide him in choosing the right direction should his life’s road fork again.

Education

Hinds CC’s industry partnerships focus on business needs

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Among those participating in a recent tour of the KLLM Driving Academy were, front from left, Kirk Blankenship, vice president of driver resources at KLLM; Jim Richards, CEO and President at KLLM; Hinds President Dr. Stephen Vacik; back, Hinds Vice President Dr. Chad Stocks; Federal Co-Chairman Chris Caldwell, Delta Regional Authority; Umesh Sanjanwala, state director, U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith's office; and Brad Ferguson, field representative for Central Mississippi, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker's office. (photo courtesy Hinds CC)

The federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority took a firsthand look at two of Hinds Community College’s partnerships with industry during a recent tour of the KLLM Driving Academy and Diesel Technology Academy, both in Richland.

The college’s partnerships with the industry leaders, KLLM Transport Services and Empire Truck Sales/Stribling Equipment, grew out of a need the companies had for trained employees. Hinds worked with the companies to craft training structures and time schedules that fit their needs, not traditional academic schedules.

“At DRA, we stress the importance of partnering with regional business leaders to develop workforce programs based on industry-specific needs,” said Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Caldwell. “Hinds Community College has done just that with the KLLM Driving Academy and Diesel Technology Academy, and I continue to be impressed by its vision and work to strengthen workforce pipelines in Mississippi.”

Caldwell toured both facilities with representatives of U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

“Everything we do is about workforce,” said Dr. Stephen Vacik, who became Hinds president July 1. “I was talking to Gov. Tate Reeves last week and he said, ‘Everything we do, whether it’s an English class, whether it’s welding and everything in between, it’s about workforce development.’ And I said, ‘you’re right.’

“We have a great team, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it. We’ve got some exciting things on the horizon,” Vacik said.

The KLLM partnership began in 2012 with the current building housing the academy opening in 2014. KLLM handles the training of truck drivers. Hinds handles the coursework.

“We started this driving academy for one reason – to staff our trucks,” said Jim Richards, president and CEO of KLLM Transport Services. “We partnered with Hinds Community College, which brought a lot of credibility to us immediately. They were here on the ground level. They really understood what we were trying to do and jumped in. I never felt trapped by academia in this program. It was all about whatever we needed to do, they were available to help us.”

The KLLM tour concluded with a significant milestone for the Hinds-sponsored Registered Apprenticeship truck driver program when Dr. Vacik presented the 200th apprentice completion certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor to Richards.

Hinds has a similar partnership with Empire Trucks Sales/Stribling Equipment to train diesel technicians and parts specialists. The partners have employed 71 students and 70 other companies have employed graduates.

The partnership began in 2016 when company officials saw the KLLM partnership and said they wanted the same deal as KLLM, said Hinds Vice President Dr. Chad Stocks.

A new cohort of 15 students enters the program every eight weeks if they meet minimum requirements in core subjects either on the ACT or college placement tests. The first 30 credit hours of the program are held at the Raymond Campus with the next 15 credit hours at the Diesel Technology Academy where students focus on either transportation or equipment for a technical certificate. Students have the opportunity to continue the program for an Associate of Science degree in Diesel Equipment Technology.

“We took the model we had at KLLM, we replicated it and modified it to fit the diesel tech industry,” Stocks said. “We spent a great deal of time looking at the whole industry, and not just what the training needs are today.

“The only way to get a great workforce project is listening to industry, having the flexibility of the college to put these practices in place and building a pipeline of qualified graduates so that they have a steady stream of employees into those fields,” he said.

Hinds Community College has received workforce development grants in the past from the Delta Regional Authority, which covers 252 counties and parishes of the eight-state Delta region that includes Mississippi.

Hinds received a grant last summer for $1.3 million to expand workforce development in three distinct areas via the Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities grant initiative. Those areas include Advanced Manufacturing, Inland Waterway Maritime and Logger Equipment Operations. Established in 2000 by Congress, the Delta Regional Authority makes strategic investments of federal appropriations into the physical and human infrastructure of Delta communities.

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Karla McHan experiences the unique challenge of leading her school in 2020

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Karla McHan and her colleague and mentor Mary Arledge on the first day of school this fall. (photo courtesy K. McHan)

When Karla McHan was looking for a challenge last year, she had no way of knowing exactly how challenged she would be.

McHan spent 22 years teaching social studies (mostly U.S. history but also world history, government, psychology and sociology) at Warren Central High School when she was offered the lead teacher position in 2012.

“I really enjoyed seeing education from a different perspective and loved the opportunity to work more directly with teachers,” McHan said.

The experience motivated her to go back to school for her master’s degree in educational leadership, something she had put off when her children were young.

“I decided it was time to venture out and knew I could bring my perspective as a longtime teacher to educational decision making,” she said.

A rare history position opened at Vicksburg Catholic School in 2016, and McHan could not pass up the chance of working with a man who had been the principal of her elementary and junior high schools when she was a student: Dr. Buddy Strickland.

“It seemed like everything just fell in place,” she says of making the move to St. Aloysius High School. VCS also offered McHan a unique opportunity to advance her career and more openly share her faith.

“As a practicing Catholic, I was excited about being in a school environment that so beautifully incorporates faith and love of God and neighbor in its daily activities.”

St. Aloysius is much smaller than Warren Central, and McHan said it was a great place to step into the role of principal last year. “The smaller setting helped create a stronger sense of family, and I got to know everyone better,” she said. “That’s important when taking on an administration role.”

As far as finding the challenges she was searching for, McHan got what she wanted in more ways than one in her position as the school’s principal. She experienced the typical new-principal challenges such as gaining the faculty’s trust and learning how to best utilize each staff member’s individual strengths, but then life threw her a curve ball.

”Hands down, the biggest hurdle I have faced has been COVID-19,” she said. “I think all new principals spend their first year in survival mode, but that moves into a whole different level when a pandemic hits three-quarters of the way through.”

McHan said that creating a distance learning program and putting it into action effectively was one of the most difficult tasks she has faced on any level of her education career, but it has been especially trying when coupled with the responsibility of every student and faculty member in her school.

“I considered all of the typical administrator duties when I was deciding to move,” she said, “but helping teachers and students adapt to distance learning while identifying the academic gaps that come with extended time away from the classroom was never on my radar.”

McHan credits her faith, the support of her family and the “fabulous faculty and staff at St. Al” for her success. She also credits the great relationship she has developed with Mary Arledge, principal of St. Francis Xavier Academy. “She is just an incredible mentor and supporter,” McHan said of Arledge.

McHan is clearly not a person to relax when the going gets good. In addition to constantly trying to better the distance learning processes, she plans to continue her education and pursue a specialist’s degree. Her plans also include more time with family and traveling with her husband, David.

“It may sound crazy considering the current state of educational practices, but I definitely foresee being able to relax a little soon,” she said, “and I can confidently say that because I know I have the backing of such a hard-working, supportive staff.”

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For Cooper Jamison, his Bovina Elementary ‘family’ is everything

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(photo by Tiffany Jamison)

Growing up, most of us dreaded hearing a teacher say, “I’m going to call your mother,” because that call usually ended in some form of punishment. For one child at Bovina Elementary School, that sentence turned out to be a very good thing.

For 10-year-old Cooper Jamison, it may have saved his life.

“When Cooper was in second grade, his teacher (Tina Cochran) called and said that something with Cooper just didn’t seem right that day,” said his mother, Tiffany Jamison. “He had trouble understanding very simple directions. We had already started noticing his balance seemed off when he played baseball and that one of his eyes turned in a little.”

Cochran’s keen observation helped start a long journey for the Jamisons.

“I know God used Mrs. Cochran to help us that year because it all led to discovering Cooper had a very deep tumor in his brain and was having seizures,” Jamison said.

Their journey included a grueling process of visits to pediatricians, ophthalmologists, neurologists, and learning disability specialists and multiple trips to a leading team of specialists in Boston.

Jamison said that the faculty and staff at Bovina have been a blessing, and the love they’ve shown her family is overwhelming.

“It’s more than just a school,” she said. “It’s a support system that came together to help our family through a very scary time.”

The Jamisons have three children attending Bovina and the school banded together to make sure all of them were surrounded with love and prayers.

“We have all been shown so much love by them (faculty and staff of Bovina). They collected money, made homemade muffins, created #SuperCooper T-shirts and even arranged to have meals delivered to us after Cooper’s surgery,” Jamison said.

Beth Harbin, an assistant teacher at Bovina, organized a prayer vigil to surround the Jamisons the night before Cooper’s surgery.

“My mother had the same kind of tumor that Cooper had, and I know the emotional strain it can put on you. And the Jamisons are such a beautiful, Christian family,” Harbin said. “I knew it would help if they knew we were surrounding them in prayer.”

Nicole Gilmer organized a supportive send off the day the family left for his surgery in August.

(photo by Tiffany Jamison)

 

“We had people lined up from his house all the way to Clinton with balloons and signs. There were fire trucks and cars decked out on the side of the roads and on the overpasses cheering Cooper on,” Gilmer said. “I just wanted them to know how many people were praying for them and hopefully add a good memory to a very scary day.”

Cooper’s family is amazed and grateful for the outpouring of support from his school family.

(photo by Tiffany Jamison)

“I hate to leave anyone out because we really felt the love from every single person at Bovina,” Tiffany Jamison said. “It’s overwhelming when you think of how they all came together for our family. The sweet cafeteria ladies even tell us how much they love Cooper and are praying for him.

“Even now, while Cooper is recuperating, the whole school is still showering us with love and support. There is not one person at Bovina who hasn’t shown us love.”

As Cooper continues to improve, his mother feels blessed to have the connection to his school.

“Bovina is family,” Jamison said. “It is an incredible feeling to know that when you drop your children off at school, they’re receiving so much more than academics. At Bovina, they are receiving genuine love.”

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