By Chris Kieffer
OXFORD – The man who has led the Barksdale Reading Institute since its inception will retire this summer.
Claiborne Barksdale, 63, will step down on June 1 as BRI’s chief executive officer. He’ll be succeeded by Michael Cormack, who has worked with the organization since 2010 as the principal of Quitman County Elementary School.
“I’m 63, and I want to continue to be involved in education issues, but there are some other things I want to do as well, and this will free up my time to pursue those other interests,” Barksdale said. “The other aspect is I’m so excited about what Michael can do. I think Michael can lead us to higher ground.”
The Oxford-based BRI was created in 2000 by former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale and his late wife Sally. They made national headlines when they put $100 million into efforts to help children in their home state learn to read before they reached third grade.
Claiborne Barksdale, Jim’s brother, has been its CEO since 2000. During its history, it has tried various approaches to boost literacy. Currently, it agrees to fund top-tier principals at two schools – Quitman Elementary and Williams-Sullivan Elementary in Holmes County – whose districts agree to provide autonomy. The idea is that a strong principal is an essential component of a strong school.
Cormack is a Boston College graduate and former teacher with a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He was working at Teach for America when Barksdale hired him, and he has led the school to large test score gains.
“He has constantly impressed (BRI Director of Program Strategies) Kelly (Butler) and Jim and I not only with his raw intelligence, but also with his judgment, with his moral compass which never waivers, with his ability to work with other people and more specifically to bring out the best in other people,” Claiborne Barksdale said of Cormack.
“…I think Michael has such great potential and is going to strengthen our work and strengthen education in Mississippi.”
Claiborne Barksdale no longer will have a formal role with BRI. He will continue working with other education efforts, such as the Parents Campaign and Mississippi Building Blocks.
He said his brother, Jim, has made a commitment to continue funding the institute’s operations for another 20 years. Its agreements with its two schools run through the 2015-16 school year.