EDITORIAL: In the interim

By NEMS Daily Journal

Upheaval in the Tupelo Public School District disappeared from downtown streets after the announcement Tuesday that Superintendent Randy Shaver would vacate his post after less than two years in the position.
A public outcry erupted after it was announced that popular Tupelo High School Principal Lee Stratton would not be retained in that position in 2011-2012 – on Shaver’s recommendation and by vote of the Tupelo School Board.
Significant issues remain unresolved in the district, which has seen its reputation tarnished by mediocre academic performance on standardized tests, which is related to movement of the middle class out of Tupelo for a variety of school, housing and neighborhood reasons.
The school board can make its first step toward system recovery and restoration of public trust in the hiring of a proven, successful school leader to serve as interim superintendent. That need is immediate.
We believe it is essential that the community and the Tupelo City Council back the board in that selection and as it undertakes the search for a long-term superintendent. It’s the board’s responsibility, under law, to make such decisions.
Public input opportunities
The board, on the other hand, would do well to offer the opportunity for broad public input on the characteristics and qualities that people both within and outside the school system in Tupelo would like to see in the next superintendent and to involve interested citizens as much as possible at appropriate points in the search process.
Good and regular communication from the board, of course, is necessary after the search process unfolds, but any personnel issue’s confidentiality is protected by law. There will be times in the process where complete transparency is neither helpful nor necessary.
The City Council enjoys free speech, but it has no role in school hires beyond confirming trustees to the board. The council strongly expressed its preference about Shaver’s tenure, but that was the rarest exception in a long history of city government-school district relations.
The idea or improved communication between the council and school board is a good one and should help prevent repeats of council intervention in school affairs.
The Tupelo district, despite recent issues, remains one of Mississippi’s most important public school assets. Many experienced, successful and supportive public education advocates could be called on to offer guidance, and we hope the school board will consider those opportunities.
Constructive involvement
One consideration should be reassessing how parents and school supporters can be constructively involved at many different levels and in many ways in support of Tupelo’s schools.
Claude Hartley, a former chairman of the Tupelo and Mississippi public schools’ boards, has suggested a special committee that would serve as liaison for the board, the City Council and the wider community, including members of all three constituencies. Hartley, who remains a state trustee, is passionate about the Tupelo district.
The Tupelo trustees have said they will move on an interim superintendent as soon as negotiations with Shaver about his contract are complete. We hope that resolution is prompt. There is no gain in focusing on what has happened.
Opportunity is ahead, and it can’t be realized without strong and intentional interim leadership for the transition to the next superintendent.