OKTIBBEHA COUNTY — Four county residents are vying for an elected spot on the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Board of Trustees in November.
The incumbent, a member of the Education Association of East Oktibbeha County Schools, a previous parent-teacher organization executive president and a reverend have all qualified for the Nov. 2 election that will fill one of the two county seats on the board.
When the Starkville and Oktibbeha County school districts consolidated in 2015, legislation outlined the layout of the school board — three city representatives appointed by the Starkville Board of Aldermen and two elected by Oktibbeha County citizens who live outside city limits.
John Brown currently serves in the position up for election, while Jamilla Taylor serves in the other county position. The election for Taylor’s seat will take place in two years.
In order to qualify for candidacy, applicants had to deliver a petition of at least 50 registered voters supporting them to the Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk’s office, Circuit Clerk Tony Rook said.
Incumbent Brown, who has served on the board since 2016, is running for re-election. He said through his position, he has striven to ensure students are put first, followed by teachers and then administrators. With a background in law enforcement and emergency services, Brown said he brings a perspective of security and preparation to the board.
“I’m running for re-election because I want to continue to see that students are placed first,” Brown said. “… I think I bring to the board issues about safety — issues about safety of our students, staff and administration, as well as emergency plans for preparedness.”
When Brown served as board president during the 2019-20 school year, he implemented a committee that evaluated current and new policies for the district. He said while he is proud of the work he has done during his past term on the board, if re-elected, two things he would like to see implemented is for all five board positions to be elected, instead of three appointed, and to restore religion in the schools.
“The one thing that I haven’t done and that I haven’t brought up that I would really like to see is to try to get prayer back in the school system,” Brown said. “I want to at least get it in our meetings.”
Longtime Oktibbeha County resident Willette DuVall said she is running as a voice for the rural community. While she is a part of the Education Association of East Oktibbeha County Schools, a nonprofit education group, she said she is running as an individual instead of representing her organization.
With a background in education, some policies she said she would like to see implemented include creating better communication between parents and administration, providing more COVID-19 support for the district, building incentive programs for teachers and chiefly establishing more diversity among the schools.
“We need to have a better understanding of people,” DuVall said. “Don’t just assume that we all come from the same place and we all have the same understanding and the same knowledge and skill set to deal with everything. When you come from different cultures, you have a different understanding. You have different ways of doing things.”
Licensed professional counselor Cassandra Palmer served as the executive PTO president for three years, with her final year being when COVID-19 hit in 2020. She said she has immense experience with the school district by being involved in strategic planning with Superintendent Eddie Peasant, attending parental involvement training and serving as a community stakeholder for when Peasant was hired.
Palmer also worked within both Starkville and Oktibbeha County school districts before consolidation through counseling services and currently has four children who attend SOCSD schools, allowing her to see what the district was like both pre and post-consolidation, she said. If elected, she said she would like to encourage two-way communication with all parents, urge the board to be more approachable for staff members and find ways to retain teachers.
“I think I have the unique perspective of having both worked in and outside of the schools as a school employee and someone working with students in the school from an outside perspective, too,” Palmer said. “… I think it’s important that we represent everyone, but I think it’s also important that we have representatives of the county that understand maybe some of the decisions, impacts and challenges that parents and students out here face.”
Rev. Ronnie Tucker serves as the pastor of Mt. Peiler Missionary Baptist Church in Starkville. He said he has a good working relationship with all of the population, which will make him a great candidate for the school board because he will advocate for all members of the community.
Tucker said, if elected, he would like to create equity within the district and provide transparency to all parents, students and teachers. A retired Mississippi State University professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, where he taught public policy and administration, Tucker said his experience in policy would be beneficial to decision making if chosen to serve on the board.
“I think my background is going to be vital for this role because it has taught me how to look at policy implementation, policy evaluation, making sure the policy is guaranteed for the people,” Tucker said. “I want to make sure we are implementing policies that are reflective of the student needs and to make sure the students are prepared for college or the workforce.”