By Emily Le Coz and Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Political leaders and community members lauded Tuesday’s appointment of businessman Rob Hudson to the Tupelo school board.
Hudson was nominated by Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and unanimously approved by the City Council. He replaces outgoing school board member John Nail.
“I think Rob is an excellent choice to be on the school board, and I think he could probably bridge the gap that has been missing between the general tax-paying public and the school system,” said Ward 1 City Councilman Markel Whittington. “He is bright, understands business, he’s a large employer.”
Hudson runs Hudson Management Corp., which owns several McDonald’s restaurants in the area. He also serves as president of the Boys and Girls Club of North Mississippi and most recently headed Leaders Engaged for the Advancement of Public Schools Inc., or LEAPS, a nonprofit launched last month to support the TPSD.
Hudson said he’ll step down from LEAPS with his new role, but the group will continue.
“The group is united, and we want to do anything to help our school system and our children,” said Lisa Hawkins, a LEAPS board member and owner of Room to Room Furniture.
Hawkins also said Hudson makes a great choice for a school board member, calling him “a uniting person who can come to consensus and bring groups together.”
Hudson’s appointment comes amid controversy for the school district, whose former superintendent and board have faced public criticism for a lack of transparency, as well as for transferring a popular high school principal to another position.
The City Council also got involved, chastising the board for not communicating and calling for the resignations of then-Superintendent Randy Shaver and Assistant Superintendent Fred Hill.
Shaver ultimately left over the fallout; Hill remains on staff and was approved by the school board for the 2011-12 school year.
“I know it’s a critical time for bringing someone new on the board in, but I believe that he will be one of the people I would feel comfortable with,” said Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings. “He has the school at heart and the city at heart and wants to make it better for everyone.”
Jennings said Hudson promised to communicate with the council.
School Board President Amy Heyer also praised Hudson’s selection, citing his business acumen and past generosity to the schools as assets.
“With his board appointment he will be able to concentrate his efforts for the children of Tupelo in these three ways: employment of the superintendent, development and approval of policy and approval of the budget,” Heyer said. “We’re pleased that Mr. Hudson will be joining us to perform those three responsibilities.
“We really appreciate all that John Nail has given. He has added a lot, especially in business. He has been conscientious and has added a lot to our board and our board dynamics.”
Interim Superintendent David Meadows said that as a successful business person, Hudson would be an asset to the board and to the students. He also thanked Nail for his service.
Not everyone’s first choice
But Hudson wasn’t everyone’s first choice. Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell said he would have preferred someone with an educational background.
“As citizens know, the council doesn’t get to appoint a nominee for the board. If that were the case,” Newell said, “I would have appointed an individual with a strong background in education, preferably educational leadership. Also someone that would not be perceived as from the Tupelo elite.”
Newell voted for Hudson anyway, saying he’s “a model Tupelo citizen, with a good heart. He really wants to see the Tupelo public school system be successful.”
Tupelo parent Donna Daniels, who was among several residents to speak out against the district at the council’s April 5 meeting, called Hudson’s appointment a positive change.
“He has a vested interest because he has children in the school system,” she said. “That just gives me chills. That means we are going to be going in the right direction with our school system.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or email@example.com.