How Union Co. Schools got MS’s only rural schools’ theater program

Clint Reid was recruited by Superintendent Ken Basil to start the theater program for the Union County School District. Photographed in New Albany, October 17, 2015.
October 23rd, 2015     Community County Schools

“All I did was sell the idea to the Board and to Clint, and I got out of the way.   ”       —Ken Basil

For seven or eight weeks every fall, from four different directions, dozens of high school students come to New Albany four or more days each week. They come from four school campuses, scattered over the far reaches of Union County, to spend two to four hours rehearsing for a musical theater production. Students provide their own transportation from East Union, Ingomar, Myrtle and West Union to rehearse, then return home and spend the time and energy required to keep their grades high enough to participate in this program.

The students build the sets and gather the costumes and props. They learn several new songs and dance routines. They rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. They sell the tickets and pick up after themselves. Counting public performances and performances for the students of the Union County School District, they perform the show five times in four days. The logistics alone are staggering.

How did a guy from Itawamba County, a licensed financial services agent, come to build a theater program in a rural school district?

This program didn’t just happen. It was willed and worked into being. Clint Reid will be the first to tell you he has lots of help, thousands — yes thousands — of hours of work by students and parents and other teachers and other school district personnel and even some volunteers with no other connection to the school district.

Clint Reid is shown during rehearsals for the musical Tarzan.

Clint Reid is shown during rehearsals for the musical “Tarzan”.

Clint Reid was born and raised in Itawamba County. He graduated from Itawamba County Agricultural High School. (Itawamba County Agricultural High School — what guts it must take to maintain a great name like that well into the 21st century). Reid attended Itawamba Community College (ICC) and graduated from the University of Mississippi.

It was while at ICC that Reid said he got “hooked on theater.” His sister was active in the ICC theater program, and he became interested as well. In the fall of 2001, in a stage production of the Greek tragedy Thyetes, he acted in his first role, that of a messenger. Carrying messages back and forth between feuding, murderous kings and those numerous and temperamental Greek gods and Furies. Hazardous duty. The next spring he played the lead male role in “She Loves Me,” the play upon which the movie “You’ve Got Mail” was based. Lighter work we hope–but, then, romance can be hazardous, too.

Reid received a degree from  Ole Miss, not in theater, but in social sciences and history. He married Brandi Jolly from Union County, a five-time qualifier for the Miss Mississippi pageant, who was named Most Talented the last two years. Brandi now teaches music at Ingomar and also operates a pageant store and consultancy.

The Reids lived in New Albany while Clint began a career in the financial services business. He went through an extensive training program with Northwestern Mutual. While selling annuities, mutual funds, stocks and bonds, Reid continued his interest in theater with the Tupelo Community Theater (TCT), where he was involved in several productions. In 2008 he was in the TCT production of “Tuna Christmas.”

The Daily Journal of Tupelo published a story about “Tuna Christmas,” and Ken Basil read it. Basil had started his first term as Union County Superintendent of Education in January of 2008, and knew Clint Reid through his wife Brandi Reid, a teacher at Ingomar, one of the four campuses in the Union County School District.

 Earlier this year Basil told about the need he saw when he first became superintendent to make more extracurricular activities available to students in the county schools. A main focus of public education being to keep students going to classes and motivating them to earn good grades, Basil perceived a greater range of extracurricular activities as a way to help make that happen. The rationale of it is simple: make attractive activities available to students and require good attendance and good grades as a condition for being allowed to participate.

 Basil broadened the county schools athletic program to include football. He made more music education available and the county schools now have a marching band. More art education was commenced.

But back to musical theater.

After reading the article about TCT’s “Christmas Tuna,” Ken Basil asked Clint Reid if he would be interested in starting a musical theater program in the county schools. Not unexpectedly, Reid liked the idea.

No other rural school district in Mississippi has a theater program at all, much less one that is hugely successful.

Clint and Brandi Reid with their children Jon-David and Polly Beth.

Clint and Brandi Reid with their children Jon-David and Polly Beth.

A luncheon meeting was arranged with someone who’d had considerable experience in producing musical theater in the New Albany public schools. On Friday, Dec. 12, 2008, Basil and Reid had lunch at McAllister’s Restaurant in New Albany with Phil Nanney. Nanney and his wife, Sylvia, had produced a great many successful musical theater productions over many years at New Albany High School. They encouraged and supported the ambition of Reid and Basil to start producing musicals in the county school system.

Early in the second semester of the 2008-2009 school year, meetings were held with high school students at all four Union County campuses. There was strong and broad enthusiasm from students, parents and others. In April 2009 students from all four campuses staged “Oklahoma,” their first musical theater production, in the Cine’ Theater at the Magnolia Civic Center in downtown New Albany.

It would be a considerable understatement to say the Union County schools production of the 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic was well received. As the record promoter told Mr. Lund in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou,” the audiences had “gone apey.” Knowing that it was the first such production by Union County students, and being aware of the obvious logistical challenges, this writer, for one, was astonished at the quality of the “Oklahoma” production.

They’ve only gotten better over the last six years. Reid and his many helpers have produced demanding musicals including “Grease,” “South Pacific,” and “Wizard.”

Last month’s Union County Schools production of the Phil Collins and David Henry Hwang musical “Tarzan” was nothing less than incredible. A cast of 82 fully costumed student actors sang, danced, and flew around the stage flawlessly. Another 20 students were involved backstage and in other areas of support. It was merely stunning.

Phil Nanney said this week, “Clint has achieved far above what was originally expected.”

Everyone works together: it’s all about the kids

Clint Reid continued as an agent for Northwestern Mutual for a short while, but became full-time faculty with the Union County schools in the fall of 2009He teaches world history and psychology. He and Brandi now have two children, Jon-David, 5 years old, and Polly Beth, age 7, and are active members of Fredonia Baptist Church. His energy, intensity and ability to “multi-task” are remarkable. Unlike some such individuals, he is “normal” — good social skills, sense of humor and a broad variety of interests.

” All…working around each other’s schedules to ensure our kids get to do everything they want to do.”
Reid stresses the importance of the help and support the musical theater program has received from parents, colleagues, school administrators, and the Union County Board of Education. He especially praised the work of his assistant Justin Bartlett, who works full-time in the Church After School (CASA) program in Tupelo. Ken Basil agrees, “There is no way this could work without the help from so many.  All the principals, coaches and other school personnel who have to change a class or assignment during the performances are a big help…working around each other’s schedules to ensure our kids get to do everything they want to do.”

According to Superintendent Basil, “Clint is definitely the cog in this massive undertaking.  He’s such a hard worker.  The kids love and respect him.  The district staff is like me, they are in awe of what he is doing.”

The Union County School District has achieved one of the top academic performance records in Mississippi, while spending less per pupil than the state average. Ken Basil’s plan for improving academic performance by broadening extracurricular activities has worked. “The students have something to look forward to,” says Basil. “Grades are up, discipline problems are down — because they must do those things first before we allow them to participate in extracurricular activities.”

Additional benefits have accrued from musical theater, the band program and other new extracurricular opportunities in the county schools. As never before, students from all parts of Union County have the opportunity to get to know one another. Esprit de corps is powerful in the county schools.

This may well be one of the most important long-term benefits of a job well done.

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