Chris Turner is local, comes from a family with a background in education and has a track record of turning around low performing schools.
Now, Turner is hoping to make a difference in his hometown as the new JW Stampley 9th Grade Academy principal. He was the principal of Robert L. Merritt High School in Indianola from 2016 to 2021 where he turned a failing school with the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) to a high C.
Robert L. Merritt High School had 238 points in the grading system upon Turner’s arrival. The lowest D in the MDE grading system is a 269. When Turner left Robert L. Merritt High School, it had 375 points in the grading system, which was two points away from a B.
“I took over a failing school,” Turner said. “The school was failing, a low socioeconomic status, academically underperforming for a number of years. So we began to create systems and put key people in place and from that onset, created a force where we had the support we had the right support for teachers, the right support for students. And we began to change that system to a successful system.”
Turner said as principal he was able to focus on disciplinary issues, reducing teacher absences and building teacher capacity. He lived in Clarksdale throughout his tenure at Robert L. Merritt High School.
Before being the Robert L. Merritt High School principal, Turner worked in the Clarksdale Municipal School District (CMSD) at Oakhurst Intermediate Academy supporting the math department, teaching physical education and coaching for a number of years.
Turner, a 2000 Coahoma Agricultural High School and 2002 Coahoma Community College graduate, made the commute from Clarksdale. He earned health education and history degrees from Delta State University in 2005 and then a Masters of Arts and Teaching (MAT) from Mississippi Valley State University. He spent 2015 and 2016 at Delta State earning a leadership degree.
His mother Vivian Burnett, also the mayor of Jonestown, taught elementary school and special education for a number of years. His wife, Latasha Turner, is the curriculum coordinator for the Coahoma County School District.
Turner looks forward to working in his hometown impacting the lives of children and being a positive force in the community.
“I think the impact we have on just being a positive influence for our children turns a huge desire for me,” Turner said.
“I wanted to take this position because I wanted to impact what we do here in our own community. Obviously, there are some needs that we have here and if I can be of service to our own community, our own school district here in Clarksdale, then I would like to be.”
JW Stampley 9th Grade Academy did not have a principal last year. Clarksdale High School principal Herbert Smith oversaw JW Stampley 9th Grade Academy.
“It’s extremely important they have their principal here in the building,” Turner said. “Whatever issues arise, the principal can take care of it. Whatever type of support they would need, having a principal here I think provides leadership and provides direction.”
Turner plans to work with Smith and the junior high principals in the CMSD to make sure transitions from one school to the next are smooth.
“There should be some things we do that are aligned so the transitions are easy for the children,” Turner said. “They hit the ground running instead of learning a new system.”
Turner plans to be data driven and monitor progress with tri-weekly assessments at JW Stampley 9th Grade Academy.
“I’ll have a better idea of where we need to focus more of our attention on and I think we’ll be fine,” Turner said.
He also stressed having an open line of communication with parents.
“I also want to make sure that we here at the building have the right approach, we build the right relationship with our students,” Turner said. “That will minimize the issues here if we build the right relationship. That was one of the things I focused heavily on in the previous setting. I build the right relationship with the children so they know that you care so they know that you genuinely want to see them successful. Without that, you will struggle at discipline.”
While Turner plans to use texting and emails to communicate, he understands the importance of the personal touch.
“I think it’s easier to send the message, but I don’t think it’s easier to make the connection,” Turner said. “You still have to have that personal touch with people so they know you care about them.
“What parents really want is for their child to be educated and for you to teach them right.”
Turner thanked the CMSD leadership for giving him the opportunity to be the JW Stampley 9th Grade Academy principal and lead the school to success.
“I have enjoyed learning the new system,” Turner said. “I have enjoyed meeting new people here. I also enjoyed observing the instruction I’ve seen thus far.”