Columbus Municipal School District parents and other community members at a public meeting on the search for a new superintendent Tuesday night agreed the biggest challenge the district currently faces is involvement — or lack thereof — from all areas of the community.
Active involvement should begin with the CMSD Board of Trustees and superintendent, and continue to include other school administrators, teachers, custodial staff and parents, according to James Rush, a law and public safety instructor at the McKellar Technology Center.
“This room should be full right now,” Rush said, discouraged by the low turnout of about 25. “We need someone who can really bridge the community together because right now I’m disappointed. I really am.”
Tuesday’s meeting was the second of four stakeholder meetings allowing for input on the search for a new superintendent. The CMSD Board of Trustees opened the search in November after voting not to renew then-superintendent Philip Hickman’s contract. Hickman was fired last month.
Similar to the first stakeholder meeting Monday night, there were no board members in attendance Tuesday per request from Tommye Henderson, the Mississippi School Board’s Association superintendent search consultant leading the CMSD search.
The parents and community members in attendance said the successful superintendent candidate should be able to build relationships using a hands-on approach. Many also noted added support and involvement from the CMSD board of trustees would help the new superintendent grow into his/her role.
However, Henderson said, the board is only required to visit each school in the district once every academic year, which is usually completed by eating lunch in the building or conducting a simple walk through.
In order to fix some of the ongoing problems in the district, including the “damaged reputation” and ongoing disciplinary issues within the schools, Johnny Judson said the school board and the new superintendent need to have a greater presence in the community, which comes from more than one visit each year.
Judson, who had three children graduate from Columbus High School and currently has two grandchildren in the district, added the new superintendent needs to be visible in the district, and foster relationships with teachers and other CMSD staff.
“The new superintendent needs to listen. He needs to listen to the students, parents, teachers and administrators,” Judson said. “And he should accept constant feedback because open meetings, like the one tonight, shouldn’t only happen when the district is looking for a new superintendent.”
Also on Tuesday, Judson’s bid to join the CMSD board failed by a 3-2 vote of the Columbus City Council.
There will also be a meeting for CMSD administrators at 10 a.m. today at Brandon Central Services, and one for teachers and other staff members at 4:15 p.m. at the Cook Fine Arts Magnet School.
If other community members are not able to attend one of the stakeholders meetings this week, they may complete an online survey available at www.msbaonline.org.
After the stakeholders meetings are complete, Henderson said MSBA is supposed to have a final report including the community feedback, by April 9. However, MSBA is also required to pre-interview all applicants before the board of trustees conducts final interviews, which may push back the April 9 report time by one week.
Although Henderson could not disclose exactly how many people have applied for superintendent, she said there have been a number of people interested in the position. CMSD board president Jason Spears said he could not say how many candidates applied until after the window for applying closes Friday.
Additionally, some attendees at both Monday’s and Tuesday’s meetings expressed interest in a public meeting including the final two or three candidates for the superintendent position. Henderson said she has not yet discussed this possibility with the board, but does plan to in the coming days. However, the final decision could be based on whether the candidates allow the board to publicly disclose their names before being hired.
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