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Former Governor William Winter Honored at Millsaps on 30th Anniversary of Miss. Education Reform Act

 

Former Governor William Winter and members of his staff known as the "Boys of Spring" were joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Overby at Millsaps November 30 for a panel discussion about the Mississippi Education Reform Act of 1982.

 

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Among its many reforms, the act mandated statewide public kindergarten and compulsory school attendance, raised standards for teacher and student performance, and created a lay state board of education.

An audience of over 250 attended the Millsaps College Forum that celebrated the 30th anniversary of the act and honored Winter, who had been presented an honorary degree just six months after the passage of the act in 1982. Entitled "Celebrating Education Reform: Thirty Years Later," the forum commemorated the past while also reflecting on the future. Along with participants' thoughts and reflections on the past, the discussion explored how the spirit of the 1982 act can be more fully and finally realized today.

Former staff members joining Winter were Dick Molpus of Jackson, John Henegan of Jackson, David Crews of Oxford, and Andy Mullins of Oxford. Referred to as the "Boys of Spring," they helped to guide passage of the act through the Mississippi Legislature. Since that time, they have continued to promote and enhance Mississippi.


The "Boys of Spring" gather at the Governor's Mansion on December 20, 1982, to celebrate the successful passage of the Education Reform Act of 1982.
From left: Andy Mullins, Dick Molpus, David Crews, Bill Gartin,
John Henegan, Governor Winter, Ray Mabus.

 

"The individuals assembled on this panel embody the ideals of inspired civic engagement and effective political leadership," said Millsaps President Dr. Robert Pearigen. He referred to comments in the 1980s that typified the group as "boat rockers," and noted that it was his hope that "Millsaps would graduate the next generation of boat rockers and the next generation of the boys and girls of spring."

Former Governor Winter remarked that Millsaps had been an "intellectual oasis in Mississippi" throughout the years. "I cannot think of a more delightful experience for me than to come on this campus and talk about education," he said.

Winter recalled the climate of the times, which he described as not a good time in Mississippi for education with low morale and negative feelings following the massive desegregation of the 1970s.

"What made us think we could do it is we didn't know any better," remarked former Secretary of State for Mississippi and founder of Parents for Public Schools, Dick Molpus, of the youthful staff members' campaign for educational change. "Governor Winter probably knew it could not be done, but he didn't tell us."

What made the passage of the act possible was the influence and commitment of Winter, said Andy Mullins, Millsaps alumnus, co-founder of the Mississippi Teachers Corps and current chief of staff to University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones. "To pass a massive reform act like we passed in 1982, you have to have the heart and soul of a governor and you have to have a governor who is willing to sacrifice himself for the children of the state," said Mullins.

David Crews, now serving as Clerk of the Court, U.S. District Court, Northern Mississippi District, acknowledged the influence of Charles Overby, the Jackson, Miss., native who returned to the state in 1982 to serve as executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger.  He led the newspaper's news and editorial coverage, which contributed to the passage of the act and earned The Clarion-Ledger a Pulitzer Prize in 1983. Both Crews and John Henegan, of the law firm Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens & Cannada PLLC, noted the group's efforts to marshal the forces of parents in Mississippi and, with the influence of the media, to make the issue the top public concern in the state.

During the question and answer session, the panel drew upon their own experiences in emphasizing the role of students in effecting positive social change. "Impatience is a real strength in Mississippi, and for you young people, tenacity is a good thing to have," said Molpus.

 

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