After a yearlong search, the Tupelo Public School Board voted unanimously Tuesday during a special meeting to name John “Mac” Curlee III principal of Tupelo High School.
Curlee, who has served as principal of Oxford High School for the past year, is set to take over the helm of the 2,000-student school July 1, replacing former principal Dale Dobbs, who retired last spring.
The 45-year-old was selected from a field of 22 applicants representing eight states, particularly in the Southeast. The district placed ads in several national education magazines in hopes of attracting a broad field of candidates.
Three school board members approved Tupelo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Vinson’s recommendation of Curlee.
A fourth member, school board president Polly Bailey, was out of town but sent a letter expressing her approval of the decision. The board is currently operating with just four members, since Billy Crews resigned last month.
Originally, the board was not expected to vote on the decision until next week’s meeting. However, after the name of the new principal was published Monday in a Northeast Mississippi newspaper, district officials decided to hold a special meeting to announce the decision.
“We really hadn’t planned to make this public at this point,” Vinson said early Tuesday.
Vinson said the district had several criteria they expected their new principal to meet.
“We had very high standards, and this candidate met them all,” Vinson said.
Among those requirements, Vinson said he was looking for a principal who was experienced leading a major school, a recognized community leader and someone who had a broad knowledge of curriculum.
“We wanted someone who would be an asset not only to Tupelo High School but to the district as a whole,” Vinson said.
THS teachers react
At Tupelo High School, several teachers said they were surprised that the school’s faculty wasn’t informed about plans to hold the vote.
Several THS teachers said they had expected Dr. Sue Shaw Smith to be tapped for the job.
The assistant principal has served as interim for the past year.
“Things have run smoothly under our interim,” said vice principal Eddie McCarthy. “The administration has had a great deal of support from the faculty. Because things had run so smoothly, this is a surprise to me. But the school board and the superintendent see a picture larger than the one I see. They look at the concerns of the whole district, while I just look at what I see day-to-day, at this school.”
Still, several teachers said they were glad a principal had been named.
“It’s good to know the decision has been made,” said Jo Ann Henderson, who teaches business at the state’s third-largest high school. “There are decisions that need to be made about the summer and about next year.”
For the most part, Tupelo High teachers said they had only limited information about their new principal.
“My husband knows him and I’d heard that his name was being considered,” said business and economics teacher Judy Beard. “I know Oxford has an excellent school district. They have a very good reputation. That’s … encouraging.”
Curlee’s former coworkers said the district’s decision to hire Curlee was a sound one.
“While he was principal here, we had national recognition from the U.S. Department of Education,” said Pearl Public Schools Superintendent Dr. William Dodson, who served as superintendent when Curlee was principal of Pearl High School. “I think that recognition came in part because of his sound leadership. He had a good tenure here and we hated to see him move on.”
Oxford Superintendent Dr. John Jordan said he regretted losing Curlee.
“Mac Curlee has done an outstanding job as principal of Oxford High School. During his one year tenure, he made a positive contribution to Oxford High School and I thank him and wish him good luck in his new job.”