Canton Public Schools meeting cleared the air for parents and citizens

There is more to the new letter grading system by the state Department of Education than we know. When progress is being made at schools within the Canton Public School District and it receives a F after a previous “Low Performing” label, it caused confusion among educators, administrators and parents, which led to false information about the district being a candidate for takeover by the state and/or charter school transition.  

I attended the special meeting for information for an enterprise piece, and found out lots of stuff about the accountability system and how it affected Canton. Here’s a good story by reporter Lucy Weber from The Madison County Herald:

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Meet and Greet new Canton Chamber executive director

The Canton Chamber of Commerce Main Street Association has a new executive director! Meet Jordan Hillman this Tuesday, November 27 at Davidson’s Restaurant on the Square (108 W. Center St.) from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. As former executive director Lise Foy has done a great job with the chamber and supporting the business community, I’m sure Mr. Hillman will do the same.

My third Thanksgiving in Mississippi.

Go ahead and salivate…yes, you like it!

I’m learning to accept the fact that I no longer celebrate Thanksgiving at home in Cleveland, Ohio, with parents, siblings, grandparents, friends and many cousins. Last year me and my husband James spent Thanksgiving with a new friend and her family in her Madison home. I had met Ashlee Lucas a month before my wedding day at the Gail Pittman store in Ridgeland and had a great conversation after I interviewed her for a story on “‘Twas a Night with Gail Pittman.” She invited us to her home for Thanksgiving dinner and I felt so blessed and honored. James and I enjoyed all of the food and watched football games, so we didn’t cook our own meal that time. 

This year, we wanted to do something different and cook our own dinner. We didn’t receive any invitations from our few friends and church family, so we got some groceries to make the fabulous meal you see on the right. On Thanksgiving day, James started the collard greens in our new Crock Pot and I slept in (extra beauty rest is a MUST). Smelling the sweet savor of the greens, I arose, thanked God for a new day and joined him in the living room. We didn’t have breakfast, so I snacked on some kettle corn with honey peanut butter. After a quick trip to Walmart, it was time to cook! But, James didn’t allow me to help with the cooking. All I could do was the jalapeno cornbread. So I pouted for five minutes and put on “Sleepy Hollow” featuring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci. (Because I LOVE Johnny Depp, James gave me “Sleepy Hollow,” “Pirates of the Caribbean 4,” and “Sweeny Todd” as a wedding anniversary present!) Two or so hours later, I made the cornbread and we feasted! Then came the food coma. We woke up, went on a walk to Friendship Park so we could shed the first meal. The weather was perfect, as the cool breeze chilled my ears and arms. The colorful leaves crunched under our feet as we walked around the trail. Then it was time for dinner and some football. All the while we discussed what we’re thankful for. Obviously, we’re thankful for each other and our marriage plus the immense blessings from God. We talked to our families back home and relaxed the rest of the evening–Michael Jackson Bad25 documentary by Spike Lee was EXCELLENT! And I was in NO mood for washing dishes (they’re waiting for me when I get off work :-/). 

Despite being by ourselves this year for the first time, I wouldn’t have had Thanksgiving any other way. I was with my best friend who can cook his tail off, in our cozy apartment with heat, cable TV and good movies, and  red velvet cupcakes. To top it off, we drooled over my mother-in-law’s awesome food pictures on her Facebook page. We are enjoying these kinds of child-less moments as long as we can because my baby fever is at an all-time high. I’m so glad Thanksgiving was well spent, don’t you agree?

Not just any ordinary mosque…

Since last year when the Mississippi Muslim Association broke ground on five acres of land outside Madison for a new mosque, I eagerly watched the construction process. I was still reporting for The Madison County Herald and made weekly trips to Canton for meetings and assignments. Each time I traveled north on Highway 51, I would look left and see construction crews hard at work. What I love about building projects is how an architectural drawing would come to life through skilled workers. The ground broken, steel beams erected, concrete poured, bricks laid and curbs installed. When spring turned into summer, the Magnolia Islamic Center was nearly finished. I was so impressed! The asphalt parking lot was striped, the wrought iron fencing crossed the front lawn and gates were up signaling that the Muslim community of central Mississippi would soon be able to learn and worship there. And I wanted to visit the mosque and do an article, but didn’t know when. Just last month, my editor Debbie asked me a few times about when the mosque opened and I told her I didn’t have a clue. But I had a contact at Nissan North America in Canton who told me about the construction late last year (I believe).

The Clarion-Ledger and The Madison County Herald ran stories about the MMA’s plans to build a mosque and of course the board was met with opposition and questions. Then the plans were approved in spring 2010 and no follow up story was done after the construction. Last Sunday, I drove to the Magnolia Islamic Center for a tour and interviews with MMA members while Sunday School was going on. Upon walking in (and after being told to button up my sweater out of respect thinking I should’ve changed into some pants), I was impressed with the modern look of the foyer, the large prayer room and the gorgeous Swarovski crystal chandeliers. Dr. Farhan Nafis and Ahmad Choudry walked with me and showed me the kitchen and dining room, game room, offices and classrooms filled with beautiful children. The women, dressed in traditional Islamic attire smiled and greeted us. The children waved and smiled at me, making me feel welcome. The men then led me to another children’s room and we finished the interview.

( Click here to read yesterday’s main story in the Suburban Digest. The goal was to provide an update on how the community received the mosque and what it will bring to the county as far as religious tolerance and diversity.)

Once Sunday school ended we headed outside to see youths playing basketball and the little ones all over the playground set. They also have a volleyball court and a badminton court. After taking more cell phone pictures, I couldn’t help but think of how good a story this would be. I heard nothing but good things about the community’s reception of the Muslims and their new mosque, how differences gave way to accepting similarities and building relationships based on understanding that even though neighbors have different styles of worship, they are the same people under one God. I’ll close this post with some remarks by Millsaps professor James Bowley, chair of religious studies (since there wasn’t enough space in print). He takes his religion students to the mosque in south Jackson and recently visited the Madison mosque. He was pleased about the community embracing the group.

“The space is very beautiful and practical, the students were impressed as was I,” Bowley said of the tour. “The people are very friendly and open about Islam and happy to answer questions and eager to explain things … It’s all about education, knowing who our neighbors are. These are people we work with.”

And professor Bowley had this to say about MMA’s plans for interfaith events:

“Having participated in and organized many inter-religious dialogue events, it has been my experience that dialogue is invaluable for all participants and crucial for our culture and society. It’s the best way for us to get to know our neighbors. So often people make judgments about  people in other religions without even knowing them, without sitting down and acknowledging their common humanity. Too often religious institutions put up walls against, or even demonize those who are not of their same faith, but that is the road to religious conflict and hate. Once we as Mississippians realize that our state is a rainbow of different religions and reject the idea that we should return to the black and white days of one religion (mostly Protestantism), then our state can begin to thrive as we appreciate our religious plurality and embrace it as a positive characteristic, instead of fearing it.”

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Nichols Middle School ribbon cutting

Up until last week I only saw a partially finished renovation of the middle school and was pretty excited to attend the ribbon cutting. Gary-Bailey Architects did a great job, the program was nice with remarks from district leaders and the school board. The program ended with great performances from the Nichols Middle School band and Canton High School band. Since I lost my iPhone photos while swapping devices at CSpire (GRRRR), the district was kind enough to email some. Take a look!

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