Public education perfect fit for metro firm’s giving back

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Published: April 9,2007

The Jackson Public Schools and the Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis law firm have a long and strong relationship. The large Jackson law firm was the first firm to become part of the Mississippi Association of Partners in Education. The firm adopted Power APAC School in the early 1990s and the commitment continues.

Former Gov. William Winter (1980-84), a long time and vocal supporter of improving public education in the state, says the firm’s involvement is not all his doing.

“This law firm has had a strong relationship with the education community in Mississippi and has been in the forefront historically in helping promote education,” he said. “I joined the firm in 1968 and found an education atmosphere here. People put education at the top of their priorities.”

That education priority was one reason he was attracted to the firm and, he feels, they to him. The senior members of the 100-year-old-plus law firm were committed to improving education. Therefore, when the education partners program was put together, the firm was ready made to be a part of it.

Jumping at the chance

“We jumped at the chance to do it,” Winter said. “We had the social commitment and the involvement was the most important thing.”

The 84-year-old former governor served many years in state elected positions and says education was a top priority when he first came to the legislature in 1948.

“The school system can’t carry that burden alone. We must all buy into the program. It’s more successful when that happens,” he says. “Everything I’ve been able to accomplish has been due to public education. My children and grandchildren attended public schools. My mother was a teacher for many years and I grew up in that atmosphere.”

Although Winter is still active in the law firm and its commitment to education, he is proud of the great staff of enthusiastic young lawyers who’re carrying on that commitment. “I think it’s the most important thing we can be involved with,” he said. “Education is the key to everything and people’s ability to perform duties.”

Firm attorney Linda Keng serves as the liaison with Power School, a public school dedicated to arts and academics.

“It’s really supporting the children,” she says. “There is a need other than what state funds provide, and for us it’s an opportunity to help children and teachers.”

Because the school is located near the offices of Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis, firm members can more easily have hands-on involvement. Book Buddies, firm members volunteering to read to classrooms, is a popular program.

Often members stop by the school on their way to work.

Professional — and personal — commitment

Attorney Zach Taylor has been with the firm for approximately 30 years and is vitally committed to the education partnership. Part of his interest in Power School is because he and his two children are products of that school.

“Law firms have a responsibility to do the right thing. It’s good for business and good for the community,” he said. “Public education is an important part of making people want to live in a city. It gets everyone in one place from a wide spectrum. It’s a melting pot for the community.”

Taylor puts his time and effort where his mouth is by working at Power School on gardening and other projects. “I’ve raked, pruned and moved bushes and built a concrete wall,” he notes. “I’m a day laborer. That’s all I’m fit for.”

Getting together

As the firm’s education liaison, Keng attends meetings with the school partners to plan their mutual involvement. “The teachers put together a wish list at the beginning of the year and we fund what we can,” she said. “We ask them to let us know what they need and we do what we can throughout the year.”

One of the firm’s most rewarding projects is having students design the firm’s Christmas card each year. A student’s design is chosen and used. “We get some interesting entries for the Christmas card. It’s always fun and hard to choose a winner,” she said.

Keng also recalls with amusement the year the firm had a joint community project called Pennies for Pachyderms to support elephants at the Jackson Zoo. Students collected pennies, lots of pennies.

“Our marketing group spent days rolling pennies and had to make special arrangements to get them to the bank because they were so heavy,” she said. “We’ve shied away from that project ever since.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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