Matthews Honored

After serving on the Stone County School Board for 12 years, colleagues say District 5 Board Member Doris Mathews’ dedication to education will have an everlasting impact for students.

While others see her legacy as instrumental to the District’s accomplishments in recent years, Mathews sees herself as a minor cog of a larger purpose.

“I don’t take credit for all that, I was just part of it,” Mathews said. “It’s not me, it is the Board. It’s the community. It’s the legislature.”

Before joining the Board, Mathews knew firsthand that teachers and students need support from the community and the school board.

Mathews taught art for over a decade to every grade, from kindergarten to college.

She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Mississippi. Mathews earned her doctorate in education from the University of Southern Mississippi.

“I had the whole school experience,” Mathews said.

During her tenure, other board members knew Mathews for her quiet strength and her unwavering belief that every student in Stone County deserved the very best the District could provide.

When she first took office, the nation was reeling from the 2008 financial crisis, which impacted the district on multiple fronts.

“We had to find ways to cut back on spending without cutting down on instruction,” Mathews said.

State-collected data for the 2008-2009 school year ranked the SCSD as successful with a 78.7 percent graduation rate, 69.2 percent of students passed the subject-area English test, and the average ACT score was 18.7.

Currently, the District boasts an A-rating with a 86 percent graduation rate, which has increased over the past 10 years according to the most recent State-collected data from 2018.

Other challenges included upgrading facilities and maintaining outdated infrastructure.

This year, the Legislature awarded the SCSD more than $3 million in funding for a new Career Technical Education building through the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund. The new CTE building will be the first major facility built in the district in decades.

“That was a really hard thing to get,” Mathews said.

The Board made history by improving the District’s 16th Section Land revenue prospects.

The sale of 16th Section Land to the Stone County Economic Development Partnership and purchase of new in-lieu acres marked the third time a district successfully exchanged lands in trust.

The transfer cut loose the McHenry Industrial facility, which had been a financial burden and added acreage more suitable for development.

Besides supporting bigger developments, Mathews did not overlook minor details.

Mathews said she is proud the Board is more transparent with the public. Since her first board meeting, the SCSD began publishing meeting announcements, agendas, minutes and school board members’ contact informs online.

“Lots of school boards could do that, but they don’t,” Mathews said.

She studied education reports and school board policy to prepare for every meeting.

School Board Attorney Sean Courtney said Mathews frequently called him to ask questions about upcoming agenda items, making sure she understood every issue.

“I don’t think there was a month where she didn’t read every word of every package,”Courtney said.

He said Mathews was a frequent champion of under-represented students and Mathews held education in high esteem.

Any time the board discussed student performance, Courtney said Mathews asked how the District could serve low-come and minority students better.

“She felt every child deserved a quality education,” Courtney said.

Superintendent Inita Owen echoed Mathews’ attention to fairness.

“She always very empathetic toward under privileged students,” Owen said.

Owen said Mathews was involved in upgrading facilities and providing students and teachers with the resources they need to excel.

She said Mathews was “instrumental” in 2015 when she pushed the district to revamp all the outdated electrical systems in the schools.

“That was a big project,” Owen said. “She wanted the facilities to be as best as they could, even if the (buildings) were older.”

In many ways, Mathews’ last year has been the most challenging.

“Who would have thought we’d have a pandemic?” Mathews said.

Mathews and other board members approved requests for state and federal funding to address needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district began distributing brand new Chromebooks to students this fall, after being approved for relief.

Mathews said she hopes the technology gains for the district will help minimize the damage from students losing time in the classrooms.

She also hopes the Legislature will fully fund to schools soon.

“The next big step is getting our students back in school and addressing unequal funding,” Mathews said. “Somehow or another, Mississippi has got to level the playing field for our school districts, so our children will have equal opportunities for scholarships.”

After stepping down from her position, Mathews said she may pick up artwork again to fill her free time.

Mathews was also was a self-employed artist for years and exhibiting primarily with Bryant Galleries.

“Maybe I’ll get back to it, but it seems like when I had grandchildren, I got busy with them,” she said.

Mathews said she will always support the schools and the Tomcats, especially while her grandchildren are enrolled.

Newly sworn-in member Julie Bond fills Mathew’s position on the Board. She will begin serving at her first school board meeting next month.

“(Dr. Mathews) was a great team member. She was a strong board member. She really brought something to table,” Superintendent Owen said. “I am going to miss her desperately.”