11 to retire from Petal School District

With the end of the 2016-17 school year also comes the end of the road at Petal School District for 11 faculty and staff members. Each retiree was recognized with a reception hosted by the Petal Education Foundation last week for their dedication and hard work over the years.

The following will retire from the district this year: Susan Bounds, Nancy Edwards, Tommy Edwards, Jan Ervin, Walter Farris, Debbie Flynt, Gary Graves, Si Thompson, Nancy Watkins,

Connie White and Betty Young. 

For Graves, the past 20 years were spent “living it up at Petal High School.” The Jones County native has 28 total years of teaching experience. He also served as the sponsor for the district yearbook.

Graves earned his B.S.B.A. in Marketing and a Master’s in Education both from The University of Southern Mississippi, as well as National Board Certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist.

Looking back over his years in education, many memories stand out. However, his trip to Dayton, Ohio, to judge an indoor percussion competition in 2014 will forever stick out in his mind.

“I suffered a debilitating stroke while judging indoor percussion in Dayton,” he said. “I was in the hospital for six weeks and then in physical therapy for six more.”

As the yearbook sponsor, he and his staff worked throughout the year to produce a product that the students would want to keep for years. The Petal yearbook has been featured in the publisher's national promotional materials in the past, so the staff tries to keep that standard high. “When I was hospitalized, the book wasn't complete but the seniors on that staff with help from several other faculty members completed the 225-page book and got it distributed on time,” he said.

“The Lord just wasn’t done with him yet,” said PHS Principal Steven Hampton.

As for life after Petal School District, Graves plans to continue judging for Winter Guard International Percussion.

“My spring schedule is already practically full,” he said. “I will also continue to volunteer with the Petal Education Foundation.”

Farris, a fixture at Petal School District, will hang up his hat at the end of the school year and turn his duties over to someone else.

Farris served as the Director of Maintenance for Petal schools for the past 13 years. He previously served on the Petal School District Board of Trustees for five years, as well as a teacher and coach for Purvis Junior High.

The Runnelstown native is married to Christy Farris. Together they gave two children, Chandler and Colby. He is a graduate of Jones County Junior College and The University of Southern Mississippi.

What stands out for Farris over the years are all of the projects he was able to see to completion alongside the experienced Maintenance Department staff, including Petal Primary School, baseball and softball Fields, new football stadium, Petal High School Performance Enhancement Center and Music Building, the new road by Primary School and the PHS soccer field houses.

“I can't say enough about Mr. Farris,” Superintendent Matt Dillon said. “He is the Maintenance Director, but he does so much more than that. As knowledgeable as he is and as many connections as he has, my favorite thing about him is how he is with people. He is so levelheaded and brings a lot of experience to the district, and we're going to miss him so much.”

Farris plans to continue working in the private industry after retirement.

Betty Sullivan Young began teaching at Petal in January 1980. She was the home economics teacher for Petal High School the first year it opened in August 1980. The Mize native is retiring after 28 years in education.

“After six years of teaching, I took a 10-year absence from teaching,” she said. “Upon returning to education in 1995, I taught at two other schools before returning to Petal in 2003 where my career began. During the last six or so years of my teaching career at the middle school, I was teaching children of some of my former Petal students.”

She is married to Tommy Young, and together they have five children each living in a different state, from California to Mississippi. She earned her MS in Secondary Education from The University of Southern Mississippi.

Young has a long list of post-retirement plans.

“I plan to enjoy much quality time with my family,” she said. “My husband and I plan to see more of this beautiful country. I love to garden and sew. I will continue to make doll clothing and sew for two new granddaughters.”

Nancy Edwards is leaving Petal School District after 15 years of teaching in the Career and Technical Education department.

Edwards began her career in education as a secretary to the principal in the Kemper County Schools for five years and a financial aid advisor at East Mississippi Community College for eight years. 

“After moving to Petal and graduating from USM in 2002, I began teaching at Petal High School,” she said.

Edwards has taught Technology Education, Cooperative Education and Business and Marketing.

She is married to Tommy Edwards, who is also retiring from Petal High School this year. Together they have two sons, Dustin and Brady. Dustin lives in Oxford, and Brady lives in Baton Rouge.

She received her Bachelor’s from The University of Southern Mississippi.

After retirement, she and her husband will be spending more quality time with their children and parents. 

“We would also love to travel and spend more time serving at our church,” she said.