STARKVILLE — More than 20 residents of Oktibbeha County showed up to the Greensboro Center on Thursday evening to share their thoughts on the qualities and priorities they would like to see from the new Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District superintendent.
David Lee from Hazard, Young, and Attea Associates is leading the search for the new superintendent, as Eddie Peasant has announced he will retire June 30.
While HYA is a Chicago-based search firm, Lee is from Tylertown and received his bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State University. He has worked on placing the superintendents in both Pearl and Columbia, which Lee said are two of his most recent successes.
Lee engaged the audience with three main focal points: the district’s strengths, the district’s challenges and personal and professional qualities expected.
District strengths stakeholders identified — through discussion and through a survey sent out to parents last week — included diversity, academic offerings, the university, quality of teachers, community involvement and strong industry presence and partnership.
The district’s challenges sparked the most conversation.
The very first thing one audience member said immediately was “transparency.”
From there answers fired off left and right and ranged from investment in the community to lack of inclusivity despite diversity. One parent in the crowd noted a lack of support for inclusion (special education) teachers in the district.
Danielle McGee has a vested interest as a graduate of Starkville schools, a parent who sent her children there, and a current employee as the technology integration and data management Coordinator at the Greensboro Center. She was one in the crowd who mentioned the abundance of resources but also lack of taking advantage of them.
“I really want our district to build on a lot of the resources and relationships that we have access to in this community,” McGee said. “We shouldn’t be in a county seat where we have one of the largest universities in Mississippi and all of these industries, all of this access to agriculture and military and not benefit from it. “
McGee also pointed out there are students who choose to enter the workforce after graduation instead of college, and they should receive the same attention college-minded students receive.
“With where the economy is going right now, we have to cater to all students, not just the ones who we are prepping for college because not everyone is going to go to college,” McGee said. “I do a lot of IT trainings around the South, and I tell the students, ‘Prep for your dream, not necessarily the American dream.’ You can go into college and come out with nearly $200,000 in debt and only work a $40,000 job. … We have to make sure we can reach all of these students, and we need somebody who is in our community.”
One of the biggest concerns the crowd brought forward is the need to have a superintendent from the community who is invested in the students and teachers. Many echoed the sentiment that SOCSD is a unique district within an already unique state education system, and bringing in someone who is from the outside may be full of roadblocks compared to someone who has seen and experienced the district firsthand.
Lee told the crowd the firm actually works from the inside out, so it will look at district candidates first but they have a duty to find the best fit which is why there will be a national search.
“You have to be careful, because like (the crowd) talked about recycling those that just move around. We’re reaching out, but we are going to give a lot of consideration to local folks,” Lee told The Dispatch. “Just because we are a national firm doesn’t mean we are going to ignore (local applicants). I’m from Mississippi, and Mississippi’s where we’re looking first. If we can find a great one that knows Mississippi, that’s a perfect fit.
Lee said the feedback from the online survey that was posted and sent out to parents and teachers across the district has given HYA immense insight into what their concerns are.
One district employee, who spoke to The Dispatch but did not want his name printed for job security reasons, said he hopes HYA and the SOCSD board really take into consideration everything the community has said.
“I feel like we were heard, but what matters is if they take action on it in their search,” he said.
Applications for the position are due April 15, and it is HYA’s duty to bring forth the three best candidates to the board. From there, the board will select the candidate they deem appropriate.
SOCSD is paying HYA $21,500 plus additional fees, like a $3,920 advertising package, to conduct the national search.
The selection process should conclude around mid-May, according to new school board president Wesley Gordon.