District hosts Eastern States Consortium


 “More alike than different” seemed to be a common theme in discussion about the annual Eastern States Consortium, which was held at Petal School District this year.

The consortium began 12 years ago as a way for school district leaders from across the region to gather and exchange ideas.

Director Jim Mahoney said the group has seen some growth since its inception. He said the goal was to bring together leaders with a different point of view and ideas.

“It was designed to be interstate, but small,” said Mahoney, who also serves as the executive director emeritus at the Batelle for Kids. “While all the superintendents who helped create (the consortium) are retired now, what hasn't changed is the exchange of ideas.”

Mahoney said over the years the focus has become collectively looking at challenges that each district faces and discussing potential solutions by considering what other districts have done to address similar issues.

“We're much more alike than we are different,” he said. “The power has been in networking and different points of view.”

Petal School District Superintendent Dr. Matt Dillon said the Eastern States Consortium gives the district the opportunity to share best practices at the national level.

“So for us to have the opportunity to showcase our district and the great things that we are doing academically through our fine arts and our athletics, I could not be more proud to display the product that we have here and that’s our people,” Dillon said. “Our students, faculty and staff who work hard behind the scenes and they’re getting a little taste of that by us sharing some information that we have across the district.”

The consortium kicked off with breakfast and entertainment early Monday morning. The group kept a tight schedule with visits to each of the five campuses in Petal School District and sessions that covered topics like Professional Learning Communities (PLC) and early childhood development.

Mahoney commented that after serving as a superintendent for 15 years, he was glad to

“I’ve been lots of places, and you can see the focus and the effort and the genuineness of people here,” Mahoney said. “I was able to attend the football game and could just sense the community spirit. You can also see building leadership that is honest.”

Mahoney said the best thing about the consortium is the sharing of ideas and the discussion that is sparked during the sessions.

“It is not just a presentation, but an opportunity to visit the site to discuss at length about things they are doing,” Mahoney said. “We all approach things differently, but that’s how you learn. There is a commitment to improvement and learning.”

Part of hosting the consortium is showcasing different areas of the district. Everyone gathered at the Petal High School fieldhouse for a tailgate-themed lunch on Monday to get a glimpse of what students put into athletics at Petal.

Doug Ute, a superintendent from Newark, Ohio, was complimentary of Petal School District and its staff.

“This gives us a chance to see a high performing school district in terms of motivating students and staff,” Ute said. “Dr. Dillon and his group are high achievers. It is good for us to have a relationship with them share best practices.”

Superintendent Felicia Gomez-Walker of St. Charles Parrish in Louisiana said the opportunity to discuss PLCs and administrative reviews was especially beneficial to her.

“It helps central office to keep the pulse of what is happening at each school and a way for central office to be a service,” she said.

“What we found over the years is that we are more alike than we are different,” she added. “We are different enough to know there are ways we can learn from each other.”