Teachers/ Administrators: Hattiesburg Public School District


Hattiesburg recognized its Teacher and Administrator prior to the Christmas holidays – Dr. Vanessa Lofton, Administrator of the Year and Julie Arender, Teacher of the Year. 

Lofton, an administrator at Mary Bethune Alternative School, has an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education, Ed.S. in Educational Administration and Supervision, M.Ed. Elementary Education and a B.S. in Elementary Education .

An educator for 21 years, she has served as a principal, assistant principal and taught all subjects in first and third grades as a teacher.

Lofton says the best part of her job is the students. “I really enjoy the daily impact and positive interactions I have with students,” she said.

Most definitely surprised by the recognition, Lofton said she always think of ways to recognize students and teachers and never thinks about recognition as an administrator.

Her surprise came as she was in a meeting with teachers.

“We were discussing our next steps for remediating students when I was surprised with a visit from our superintendent, Dr. Robert Williams and a couple of school board members,” she said. “ I received lotion/body spray basket, a candle and a gift card.”

Julie Arender, who was named Teacher of the Year, is in her second year of teaching at Hattiesburg High, her first job. She followed in her mother’s footsteps to be a teacher. 

“I was very surprised to be recognized as Teacher of the Year, because I am such a young teacher,” she said.

Originally from Brandon, Arender moved to Hattiesburg after high school to attend The University of Southern Mississippi, where she received a bachelor's degree in Foreign Languages Licensure (Spanish). 

“I have my license to teach Spanish to students K-12 in Mississippi,” she said. “I served as a Spanish 1&2 teacher during the 2016-2017 school year, and I currently serve as the Spanish 2&3 teacher to 10th-12th-grade students. I also serve as the sponsor for First Priority and Student Council.”

Developing relationships with impressionable teenagers is what she finds most enjoyable about her job. 

“It is a total joy to hear about the way my students think, what they experience, their goals and aspirations, and their understanding about life,” she said. “While most of the time I get to teach my students Spanish, the proper way to respond to conflict, how to be a good leader, or helpful ways to study, there are several days where my students teach me too. They teach me how to love people deeply with their memories about lost loved ones, work harder to make a way for dreams with their stories from their second and third job, and live happier with their jokes and joy in the small things.

Arender said it’s truly a pleasure to know them and continue to know more about them.

“When I got to them, I thought I would be their caregiver, teacher and listener, but I have found that these students are the ones that care for me, teach me and listen to me. My favorite part about teaching is truly knowing students and their lives, their struggles, and their victories, but also allowing students to truly know me, so maybe one day they will grow up to invest in younger generations as well.” 

Arender credits other faculty members who have helped her keep her head above water and become successful in this profession. 

“Other teachers who have invested in me deserve this honor just as much or more than I do,” she said. “And I can truly attest that I am overwhelmingly humbled to know that these talented women and men requested for me to receive this honor. It was truly a large weight to bear holding the title of Teacher of the Year, because at first I thought that meant I had to have all the answers and be a perfect teacher for every class, every day. However, I have come to realize that the teachers I get advice from, the principals I ask for help, and the students that teach me life lessons are still there, every day, just as willing to guide me and help me like they were before. I am only as strong and as good as the team supporting me.”

Arender was notified of the TOY honor during her sixth-period class where they were practicing some vocabulary. She was presented with a gift basket containing “every Christmas treat someone could ask for, and the biggest smiles and hugs from leaders in our district and school. It was a very exciting experience, and I was so grateful to share that experience with my students.” 

Arender and her husband, who love being true Hattiesburgers, are very involved in the school district by creating a publishing media and video for Hattiesburg High athletic events.