While state lawmakers in Jackson guide Starkville-Oktibbeha County school merger legislation, one very important issue is sure to re-emerge, the early appointment of Starkville School District Superintendent Lewis Holloway as Oktibbeha County School District conservator.
It’s time to settle the issue once and for all, thereby allowing the conversation to turn toward providing the Starkville Consolidated School District’s heir apparent, whether in 2014 or 2015, the tools and authority needed to produce excellence.
Lawmakers had it right when they introduced legislation this term that not only would codify recommendations made by the local merger committee, the seven-person Commission on Starkville Consolidated School District Structure, but also appoint Holloway as the county school district’s leader a year before state-mandated consolidation.
Holloway’s early appointment is essential to the unified school district’s success. A proven leader of a large, county-wide school district, Holloway’s early vision and guidance will surely put into action the needed changes to make the consolidated system successful.
But the bold move was met with dissent locally, as county school district constituents grumbled Holloway would be allowed full control over employee contracts for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year, the first academic year of the consolidated school system.
Holloway should be able to do what is needed to create a successful school system, including evaluating incoming employees and deciding whether they are on par for the district’s long-term vision.
Conservator Margie Pulley should be applauded for her efforts to bring the county school district back in line with Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) compliance. Her input on county school issues, from staffing to facilities, should and will be gratefully accepted and implemented by Holloway.
Giving Holloway control early will allow OCSD’s course to be even further corrected as the school systems merge into one. For example, the county can already issue a local 3-mill levy for school repairs, but Pulley has yet to pull the trigger and probably will not until mandated by the state. The time-frame for campus renovations shrinks every single day without local pledges.
Compounding the early appointment issue is the MDE. Failing to seize the moment and rally around a cost-saving maneuver is imprudent — Pulley’s services will still be needed elsewhere as long as the state is prepared to take over failing school systems. Former Gov. Haley Barbour’s followers may get their way and continue consolidation efforts across Mississippi, yet for the moment, education officials have remained committed to a temporary two-leader plan in Oktibbeha County.
Those close to the merger process paint a picture of a department of education irate at lawmakers for infringing on their territory.
All along, Larry Drawdy, MDE’s chief Starkville-Oktibbeha school merger representative, repeatedly said members of the public and the local consolidation commission itself should put ideological divisions aside and do what’s best for the children of Oktibbeha County.
It’s time for local residents, state lawmakers and MDE to realize empowering Holloway is actually what is best for the children of Oktibbeha County.
Maybe then we can turn the conversation to the real question: How do we effectively give the students of the Starkville Consolidated School District the resources and support they need to succeed?