Dr. Gearl Loden

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Departing principal heaps praise on SP

By Rupert Howell

As South Panola’s Dr. Gearl Loden completes his final days as high school principal before heading to Amory, where he will be superintendent, he believes that his staff of administrators and teachers has done a good balancing act to improve both academics and extracurricular activities at a school known more for athletics than academia.

He hints that a foundation has been laid for further improvement in academic areas as teaching methods are tweaked,  learning standards increase and students come full cycle through the programs that his staff has implemented.

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He notes that during his first year, South Panola scored above state average in only one of eight areas. During the latest reporting period South Panola scored above state average in all but one area, English II writing. Lately teachers have put a lot of time into that area preparing for the most recent test and the students responded, said the principal who will not be around for the results this summer.

The school now has a music honor society, an art honor society, a theatre program, journalism program with monthly newspaper, and BETA honors club.

Next school year plans are to have student council news with a video playing during lunch periods and a debate team.

During Loden’s tenure, summer reading lists and daily reading time at school were implemented hopefully to infuse the love of reading into the students, he said.

The school has a National Merit Semi-finalist for the first time in many years and one of its students will be attending Mississippi School for the Arts next year.

Approximately 85 percent of the seniors are now taking the ACT, a percentage that has steadily increased during Loden’s tenure. He explains that some schools don’t encourage everyone to take that test which leads to the top-tier academic students taking the test only to give the false impression of higher intelligence due to selective testing.

“We give it out like candy,” Loden said of the ACT stating that students can earn a half credit by taking an ACT preparatory class or use the school’s license for the ACT practice test by computer at home, library, church or school.

“I don’t want a child to have to go to Northwest and take remedial classes. That’s wasting mom and dad’s money,” Loden said.

Loden noted that the school offers a “block schedule” of longer classes for those needing to catch up on required or desired courses. Also offered is the “zero class” which gives selected students an extra period each morning at 6:45.

While continuing to stress balance, Loden also believes extracurricular is vital to maintain a healthy and productive school.

He noted that of the  32 Class 5A Mississippi schools in 2005-06, South Panola ranked 28 in all sports competition. During 2007-08, South Panola ranked 13.

Noting that it may be mathematically impossible to compete against the larger 5A schools for the number one spot in all sports competition, South Panola recently added activities including girls power lifting, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls bowling, boys and girls archery and the AFROTC has a pellet rifle team.

Keeping students involved in areas in which they have interests is Loden’s mantra and better preparing students for the future and higher test scores is his game.

He gave as an example recent study sessions that conflicted with spring football practice. Word was sent to the coach and each player on the list was allowed to attend the sessions with Loden explaining that academic emphasis was part of the reason the football team’s overall grade point average was on the rise.

Loden stresses that he depends on his administrative team of assistant principals and administrators, his lead teachers elected by each department and his student advisory group of selected students from different grades and study areas, have all worked to improve South Panola.

He noted the school’s gradual rise in test scores and other barometers predicting “significantly brighter” results when this year’s tenth graders graduate in 2011.

Replacing Loden will be Dr. Matthew Dillon who said he is looking forward to working with the high school’s team of administrators and staff members.