There may be only five schools in the Petal School District, but the selection of the district’s Administrator of the Year and Teacher of the Year for 2021 came as quite a surprise to both of the recipients: Rob Knight, who serves as principal of Petal High School, and Teresa Loper, the school’s longest-tenured math teacher.
Knight, who joined the Petal School District in 2013, said as much as he is honored by the Administrator of the Year award, he would prefer it to acknowledge the entire staff rather than himself. In fact, he had nominated an assistant principal at the school for the award, complete with a letter of reference.
“I was certain that person was going to win, so I was totally shocked, and a little disappointed that I won,” Knight said. “I had gone to a lot of effort to recognize that assistant principal, and one of the things I said was that the assistant principals don’t get recognized as much.
“In the eight years that I’ve been here, no assistant principal has ever won Administrator of the Year, and I just thought it was time, and I have several assistant principals who are very deserving of it. I have to thank my wife and my family. Someone has to raise the kids with me being at the school all the time, and she does a great job of it.”
Knight received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2001 and his master’s degree from William Carey University in 2009. He completed the Mississippi Alternate Path to Quality School Leadership program in 2012 and received his specialist degree in higher education administration in 2016 from William Carey University. He has served in the education field since 2002.
Along with the Administrator of the Year award, Knight received a monetary gift from the Petal Education Foundation.
“That was really sweet; that was a nice little surprise,” Knight said. “My wife immediately took it and deposited it, and said that was my car note, so there that went.”
Loper said it was an honor to be named Teacher of the Year, especially given the number of quality teachers not just at Petal High School but throughout the entire district.
“By the time a student gets to the high school, they’ve had nine years of preparation from our K-8 teachers, and they do wonderful work,” she said. “To be singled out and to represent that group is an unbelievable feeling.
“It’s very humbling, and it also has made me appreciative of the wonderful school district that we have here.”
Loper earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from the Mississippi University for Women and her Master of Science degree in mathematics from Mississippi State University. She is national board certified in early adolescent mathematics and currently teaches Foundations of Algebra, Honors Algebra I and Algebra 2 for dual credit.
She has 26 years of teaching experience, all at Petal High School.
“I was selected as Teacher of the Year for the high school several weeks ago, so there were five of us – one from each school – on the stage when the Teacher of the Year was recognized,” Loper said. “I was one of five, so I had a 20% percent chance going in – that’s the math teacher in me doing that calculation.
“So, I had a pretty good chance going in, because of the limitations there, but I was really surprised that I was picked. There are some good young teachers, and I’ve been here a long time, so it’s nice to know that people think that I’m still making a contribution at this point in my career.”
Knight said knowing Loper the way he does, it’s no surprise that she was chosen as Teacher of the Year.
“She’s one of the best teachers that I’ve had a chance to work with, and she’s just a phenomenal human being,” Knight said. “She’s a great person, and she cares deeply about our students, and also our peers.
“She’s a leader on our campus. There are a lot of deserving teachers in the district, but Mrs. Loper is right there at the top. We’re really proud of her.”
Runners up for Teacher of the Year included Jennifer Delatte of Petal Primary School, Christy Sheffield of Petal Middle School, Jessica Bourgeois of Petal Upper Elementary School and Leigh Ann Thoms of Petal Primary School.