October 22, 2007 Rotogram


We’re pleased to welcome Sharon Fanning back for her annual visit to Rotary. Now in her 13 th year as head coach for MSU’s Women’s Basketball, Coach Fanning will tell us about this year’s team and give us a preview of this year’s 30-game season which opens with an exhibition game here in 2 weeks (Nov. 4).


Expectations are high for this year’s MSU men’s basketball season, which will kick off with two home exhibition games weekend after next – vs University of the Cumberlands Saturday, Nov. 3, and Oklahoma City Tuesday, Nov. 6. Our guest next Monday will be Head Men’s Basketball Coach Rick Stansbury, MSU’s all-time winningest coach, who is now in his 10 th year.


Attendance: There were 123 members present (91 active and 32 exempt). Missing were 41 active, 25 exempt, and all 10 Honorary members. Membership is currently 200 – 190 active and 10 honorary. One member is on leave.

Invocation and Pledge: Tommy Tomlinson.

Visitors and Guests: Visiting Rotarian was the speaker, Lewis Whitfield, member and past president of Tupelo Rotary Club. Guests were Deborah Williams (Youth Minister at FUMC) and Ross Williams (School Attendance Officer) of John Robert Arnold; Terry Haynes (Tucson, AZ) of Allan Tucker; and Exchange Student Negrita Caicedo of the Club.

Makeups Reported: Andy Gaston in Aberdeen Sept. 8; Kristi Brown and Joel Clements (2) on-line makeups

Meeting Notes: President Ned Browning announced that this year’s Christmas Parade will be Saturday, Dec. 1. As has become customary, everyone who has become a member during the past year serves on our Christmas Float Committee. More information coming soon.

Ned requested that all Rotarians remember to wear their badge at meetings. “We have many new members and badges help all of us get to know fellow members.”

We enjoyed another hearty laugh at Roy Ruby’s gem for the week that had absolutely nothing to do about Rotary!


Our Rotary Club and District have both designated literacy as a major project for 2007-08 and ensuing Rotary Club years. That falls right in line with a new emphasis by the CREATE Foundation to help improve education throughout the northeast Mississippi counties it serves.

Lewis Whitfield, senior vice president of CREATE, retired banker, and Mississippi State alum, congratulated Starkville voters for passing the school bond issue. Then he shared a dismal picture of the current state of education and a new program to do something about it.

Reminding Rotarians that Tupelo-based CREATE is a community foundation serving 16 northeast Mississippi counties, Whitfield said it has two components – donor services and endowment (like SOAR) are one, a program component is the other. “The goal is regional excellence.”

A PowerPoint presentation included some Federal figures that painted a rather dismal picture of the region. In 2005, per capita income for the nation was $34,471, for Mississippi $25,051, and for the region $24,903. Oktibbeha County was even lower at $24,520.

This translated into a 12.7% poverty rate for the U.S., 19% for the state, and Oktibbeha and Clay counties at the bottom of the region with 22% of the population living below the poverty level.

Whitfield said that more than half of the difference in per capita income is due to education (or lack of it) and school dropouts “are our most vexing problem.”

Reviewing the school dropout rates, he pointed out that they mean we lost 17,000 kids a year in Mississippi over the 10 years 1985-1995.

Locally, he said that in 2005 Oktibbeha County schools had a 32.7% dropout rate, Starkville had 36.1. (That year, Oxford’s dropout rate was half that of Starkville’s at 18.8%, Pontotoc County had the lowest at only 5.9%.)

Forty-one percent of Mississippi’s class of 2005 dropped out of high school. Of the 59 out of 100 who graduate, 38 go to college, but 25 of these will drop out . “I’m pleased to note that Mississippi State is making progress – 88% of last year’s freshmen came back to school,” he said.

One more sobering bit of data Whitfield shared was that 57% of the high school dropouts are working, 13% are actively looking for work, and the other 30% are not in the workforce.

“This is a silent epidemic,” he said. “We have to reduce dropouts or recover dropouts by helping them complete GED’s.”

Whitfield, who co-founded CREATE’s Excellence in Education program, outlined what’s being done to solve the problem.

In dropout prevention, a volunteer program has been established targeting 8 th graders to show them the lifetime costs of failing to complete their education. “Our goal is to relate careers to high school completion.”

“Baby Steps” is a critical program to get babies ready for school. Mississippi currently provides no money for early childhood education.

Another effort seeks to help communities create career centers across the region.

Tuition guarantees are another plan. As an example, he said the City of Meridian provides $200,000 to make up the difference between state and federal aid dollars for students to attend college. He cited several other efforts underway with Northeast Mississippi and East Mississippi Community Colleges.

Industries are playing a key role as well. Toyota has committed $5 million annually for 10 years to support the Foundation’s educational programs.

A Dropout Prevention Summit was held and each school district set a goal to reduce its dropout rate by at least 50% in 10 years.

Grants have been made available to cover costs of GED training for those for whom the modest costs are still a barrier.

A media alliance has been established to develop a regional ad campaign focused on dropout prevention by changing minds..

“Poor education attainment leads to limited career opportunities which limit financial resources and result in poor quality of life – a sure model for failure.

“We need to quit rubbing around the edges,” Whitfield concluded. “If we don’t have people involved in our schools, we’ll stay in this rut.”

The speaker, who is past president of Tupelo Rotary Club, was introduced by Ed Clynch.


Starkville Rotary Club will sponsor two SHS students for the 2008-09 Youth Exchange Program.

Tracey Seals and Ben Watson, both high school juniors, hope to spend the 2008 academic year as student ambassadors to Japan. The two students and their parents were interviewed by the Youth Exchange Committee and officers of the Club. Upon recommendation of the RYE Committee, the Board of Directors at it’s October meeting unanimously accepted both students to represent our Club and District as Youth Exchange Students next year.

Tracey, who just turned 17, is talented artistically and has a strong interest in Japanese Art. She is the only child of Tina and Tony Seals. Her mother is head volleyball coach at MSU and her father is a teacher and coach at South Lamar High School in Alabama.

Ben will celebrate his 17 th birthday December 1. He is the oldest of two sons of Greg and Rebecca Watson. His father is an artist and assistant professor in the MSU Department of Architecture. His mother is teaching English as a second language and working her Masters.

Both students have been enthusiastically endorsed by Starkville High School counselors.

Efforts are now underway to establish exchange agreements with Rotary districts in Japan. Assuming this will meet with success, Starkville Rotary Club will need at least four and preferably six families to host incoming Japanese students for the 2008-2009 school year.

Dear Abby . . . . .

While we don’t usually read the “Dear Abby” column, the column published in The Clarion Ledger Tuesday, Oct. 23 caught our eye. Readers of the column describe benefits and friendships resulting from hosting in their home an exchange student from another country.

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