Educator has sown, grown for 25 years

Published 8:05 am Sunday, July 30, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — Principals have to be big picture people and Lipsey Middle School principal Rita Robinson has grown to see education with that lens.

Robinson has worked in the Brookhaven School District for 25 years and is a few days away from starting another school year close to where The Dart landed Friday morning.

Robinson grew up in Crystal Springs and went to the University of Southern Mississippi where she earned a degree in retail management. She worked in Hattiesburg and Slidell before transferring to the Payless Shoe Store in Brookhaven to be the retail manager. 

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Thirty-two years later, she is still in Brookhaven working as a principal, living as a mother and grandmother. She is going on 31 years of marriage with Burnell Robinson, the pastor of Crump Chapel Church. 

Robinson called the time before she got started in education as “another life and calling.” When she first came to Brookhaven, Payless Shoe Store played a part in her story because her co-worker Donna Lloyd introduced Rita to Burnell in 1991. 

“She introduced me to her cousin and that is how we met. We clicked. He said he prayed for me,” Robinson said. “It was a good prayer because for 32 years we have been going strong. The Lord has blessed us. I like Brookhaven. I always thought I wanted to be in more of a metro area with different things to do. When I got here and met my husband, being in this town was the best thing in the world.”

A new calling

Robinson’s 25 years with Brookhaven School District began as a teacher’s assistant at Mamie Martin Elementary. She became a kindergarten teacher before working as an academic coach, assistant principal and now principal of Lipsey Middle School for the last eight years. Education was important to her family and her mom told her she should pursue it as a carer. 

“I didn’t listen then, but this is what I was meant to do. It has been one of those things that I do enjoy,” Robinson said. 

Each step in her journey was made possible by other people like Lorraine Carey who saw something in Robinson that she could not see herself. Robinson’s calling to education began before she started as a teacher’s assistant at Mamie Martin. 

She had just given birth to her firstborn child and was not working when Catherine Richardson asked her to volunteer at Cornerstone Daycare. It was the first time Robinson had worked with kids and God orchestrated everything from there, Robinson said. 

Her name came up as a person who might be good for a teacher’s assistant position. Mamie Martin had a boom in enrollment and she got a call asking if she was interested in working there. She realized she loved working with the kids.

Administration was not a route she chose but the path she was led to take. Carey convinced her as a mentor and advocate to become an administrator. 

“She saw in me what I didn’t see. I have in turn really watched and listened to my staff and their desires. Anyway, I can help them – I will do it,” Carey said. “What someone saw in me I see in them. It is all about preparing. I won’t be here forever. I can find who will be a good leader and invest in them to know how to lead and prepare them. Someone believed in me once, and with a whole lot of prayer I’m here.” 

Wanting to serve in any capacity possible, she has sown seeds educationally and spiritually in her career. 

“I tell these students every day ‘to always remember how you were created and that is with a kind heart. Everything else allowed in you is what you allow, so choose carefully. Allow knowledge and goodness to go in and those will come out.’ They will get it someday.” 

School starts in a week with teachers reporting Tuesday. Robinson is excited to see the students back in school and ready to get going this year. Robinson gives a lot of credit to her staff for building relationships with the students. 

At last year’s sixth grade graduation, Robinson said she was moved to tears at a slideshow featuring each teacher. Children roared with applause for their teachers. 

“We have some good kids who really perform and learn and it is because of the staff we have. It doesn’t happen overnight,” she said. “Those kids know those teachers want what is best for their futures and making them better. It is what I wanted to create eight years ago.”

Principals require thick skin because of the nature of the job. Parents might see education as just about their student but Robinson said it is about all of the students.