Familiar faces taking new roles in West Point schools

 Kendall Pickens, left, and Jermaine Taylor talk about their new jobs and the opportunities ahea
Staff Writer

One popular name is leaving West Point schools, creating a domino effect that means two familiar faces are stepping into new roles.

Tim Fowler, the assistant superintendent for operations, is retiring in June after 29 years in education. West Point High Principal Jermaine Taylor will replace Fowler in the central office and Kendall Pickens, the associate principal at the WPHS freshman campus, will replace Taylor. A new assistant principal has not been named.

The changes continue a trend of filling key positions with homegrown talent.

Fowler is a West Point native who graduated from West Point High, as did his wife Ginger, and their children. He's been in the central office for the last five years and spent 27 of his 29 years in the West Point district.

Taylor, who is finishing his fourth year as WPHS principal after four years in the same role at Fifth Street Junior High, is a West Point native and graduate and except for four years at the beginning of his career at Armstrong Middle School in Starkville, has been in education for 15 years.

Although Pickens is from neighboring Chickasaw County, he's spent his 16-year career in West Point as a math teacher, administrator and coach.

For all three men, the life changes are cases of divine intervention.

Fowler hadn't intended to retire this year, but a conversation his wife had with long-time friend Stanley Spradling last November led to an opportunity to do something after education. Fowler is going to become an inspector for Calvert-Spradling Engineering, replacing a long-time employee there who is retiring.

His leaving opened the door for Taylor, who said he also hadn't planned to jump into the central office just yet.

"I hadn't planned on retiring this year," Fowler said. "I knew when the time came I'd want to do something else afterwards. Working for someone I've known and respected a great deal is just a blessing."
"The opportunity just came," Taylor said. "Not something I'd expected at all. I always wanted to be able to give back to the community. It's a privilege to serve here where I grew up."

Fowler taught biology, genetics and environmental science and coached high school football, baseball and golf and junior high basketball, winning a state golf title in 1996.

The biggest change he's seen is in what has become "high-stakes testing."

"It puts so much pressure on the teachers and the administrators. I'm not a fan of what they make us do. We've got great teachers, but it ties their hands. I don't think the children have benefited. It's just an additional burden. When I first started, we were able to actually teach. I'm just afraid we're not able to do the things we used to do," Fowler lamented.

Changing the test-oriented culture isn't likely to happen.

"We are at the mercy of other people. But I am afraid the test scores don't always reflect what is really happening, what the situations really are," he continued.

Another challenge is one everyone from sociologists to educations have been talking about for more than a generation.

"The changing family dynamics are something every school has had to deal with and continues to have to deal with. I think the biggest thing is the declining lack of respect. Teachers do make mistakes, but they aren't always wrong. Most parents don't think they are, but there is that perception out there. I don't remember having to defend every action like teachers and administrators do now," Fowler described.
"Parents are there, they help the school and want the best, but it's different than it was when I started," he added.

And the changes generated by school shootings leave a cloud over education everywhere.

"You didn't have lockdowns. You didn't have to think every moment about whether children and staff are safe. That's a very different climate."

But even with those changes, walking away will be difficult.

"I won't miss the testing, but I will miss the wonderful people I've worked with. I can't thank Mr. McDonald enough for giving me the chance to come back home five years ago, for having the confidence in me," Fowler said, referring to his return to West Point after two years as principal at South Panola High.

His return came after his wife retired from 31 years in education and accepted the job as music director at First Baptist in West Point.

"It's the plan God had for us just like we think this is. But I will miss all the wonderful people, the daily interaction with the kids and adults. But I'm grateful knowing I can always come visit," he stated.

Taylor, who taught math before moving into administration, said he won't let Fowler get away in June without picking his brain about the nuances of day-to-day operations. But having experience at both the junior high and high school levels is a plus.

"I at least have experience with different perspectives. But when it's all said and done, to be successful, you have to have a genuine love for people, you have to want the kids to succeed," Taylor said.

And his old job should be fine.

"It'll be in good hands. He's a great asset to the community and the school," Taylor said of Pickens, with whom he's worked since their days together at Fifth Street Junior High.

Pickens' background also is in math. In fact, he came to the high school to teach algebra before Taylor made the move. He's been associate principal for four years.

"The biggest challenge is maintaining the momentum we've started, to keep the family atmosphere we've built. We've had low turnover and that has helped with consistent teaching. We want to build on that," Pickens said.