The search for a new superintendent of the East Tallahatchie School District is down to the nitty-gritty, with four finalists scheduled to be interviewed Monday.
“We’ll get that done, and we’ll probably choose somebody that afternoon after we get through interviewing,” said ETSD Board of Trustees President Bryant Watson.
He noted that the board will not make their choice known publicly until final details are hammered out, including acceptance of the district’s contract proposal by the top pick.
“We’re getting there,” Watson added. “Hopefully, by the 18th or 19th, somewhere around there, we’ll have a superintendent.”
The new district superintendent would officially assume the job on July 1.
Watson said only one of the finalists has actual superintendent experience, but he said all have served as a school principal and some also have central office experience within a school district.
“A couple of them, there are some that we know, some we don’t know,” he added. “So we’ve got a pretty good pool to pick from.”
Watson declined to address a report that two of the finalists are present or former employees of the Charleston school system.
“I’d rather keep all of that confidential until we finish doing what we’re doing,” he said. “And then, maybe after that, we might reveal who were the last four.”
ETSD hired the Mississippi School Boards Association to conduct the superintendent search after third-year super Dr. Darron Edwards announced in January that he would not return when his contract expires June 30.
MSBA advertised the position on its website and then accepted and vetted information submitted by applicants.
A total of 13 people formally applied, and MSBA met with the local board May 17 to unveil the list and present documentation about each.
At that time, the MSBA recommended a short list of candidates who they deemed best suited for the district.
In the end, said Watson, the district did not strictly follow the recommendations, nor were they obliged to do so.
“We ended up pulling the best four for what we wanted to do in our district. I think the MSBA may have had thoughts of somebody else or some other people ... but we thought different of it so we went our way, which is what we have always had the ability to do. That was the one thing that I like [about the MSBA search process]. They do all the legwork, but we still get the final say.”
Watson said he is “praying we can get the right person to come in and lead us to be a passing school district.”
In 2019, for a second straight year, ETSD graded F in state accountability ratings. In individual school markers, Charleston Elementary and Charleston Middle schools likewise were F-rated. Charleston High was a D.
After three straight years as a failing district, the state can swoop in and take control of operations at the local level.
Due to COVID-19, the Mississippi Department of Education ruled that 2020 and 2021 standardized state test results would not officially count, which granted a reprieve to districts, like ETSD, on the bubble.
State tests and other factors will count during the upcoming 2021-22 session, making selection of the “right” superintendent more important, but by no means a cure-all.
“As a failing school system, you want to try ... to get the best person to get you out of where you are...,” Watson said. “And I think the ones we have gotten are people we can probably use to get us to where we need to be. It’s just a matter of giving them time, giving them the resources and everybody coming together to do their part.
“It’s going to take more than just the school board and superintendent,” he continued. “It’s going to take the community, it’s going to take the students. ... The biggest part of it is going to be the parents, really, pushing with us to get the kids on the level that they need to be.”