Crews named COO of Tupelo school district

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Billy Crews, the chief executive officer of Journal Inc., will resign his position with the company to become the chief operating officer of the Tupelo Public School District.
Crews was named to fill the newly created position during the district’s regular school board meeting Tuesday. He will begin in his new role on Jan. 1.
“I acknowledge that it is not traditional for a CEO of a private-sector company to become a COO of a public trust,” Crews said. “I place the highest value on education in all levels, as I think this community does. I see this as being a calling after 32 years with one company.”
Crews announced his resignation as an employee for Journal Inc., the parent company of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, during a company-wide meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
As the school district’s chief operating officer, Crews will manage the non-instructional departments in the district, such as human resources, technology, communications, district operations and finance.
In announcing the position in September, Tupelo Superintendent Randy Shaver said that it would be advantageous to have someone from the private sector fill it.
The district received letters of interest from 74 applicants, and chose Crews from 23 semifinalists and seven finalists.
“I think he is uniquely qualified among the pool of applicants,” Shaver said. “He has CEO experience in the private sector, is a longtime resident of Tupelo and has a record of service and leadership with nonprofits.”
The chief operating officer will hold the same rank as an assistant superintendent. The district has two assistant superintendents this year, including Deputy Superintendent Diana Ezell, after having three assistant superintendents last year.
The position’s $122,000 salary was included in the district’s budget for the current year.
Shaver acknowledged in an interview some concerns expressed in the community about funding the position in a tight budget year. He emphasized that the position won’t result in an increase in central office staff costs over last year and no new money would be required nor instructional dollars diverted.
The position will essentially replace the assistant superintendent position that was vacated when George Noflin retired in June. Some of Crews’ duties will also include those previously performed by consultants Bob Monroe, who has since left the district to coach football in New Albany, and David Meadows, who was named the district’s chief accountability officer in July.
Shaver said that by having to spend less time with operations, he will have more time to lead professional development for teachers.
“We are at a critical point in the school system in terms of student achievement,” Shaver said. “We’re not going to improve if we don’t develop a laser-like focus on instruction, and the senior staff can’t do that if we are distracted by operational needs.”
Crews, 54, has worked for Journal Inc. for 32 years, serving as the company’s chief executive officer since 1992.
He has served in many community and education-service roles, including chairman of the Mississippi Public Education Forum, chairman of the CDF Blue Ribbon Committee on Public Education, co-chair of the Committee of 200 that raised $100,000 in pre-kindergarten scholarships for the district, Tupelo school board member and a founding director of the Association for Excellence in Education.
His first responsibility after being hired at the Journal in 1978 was to oversee implementation of a reading aide program in the lower grades of Lee County Schools financed by a $1 million gift from the newspaper.
“I’ve worked my entire career to nurture a culture of high performance in our business through hiring and supporting outstanding employees and developing plans and goals and measurable standards by which we evaluate our performance,” Crews said. “I think I can bring that experience and strength to the existing plans in the district.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.