By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
Four seek job as Lee County schools’ leader
Voters will have their first opportunity on Tuesday to weigh in on the four men vying to lead the Lee County School District.
Incumbent superintendent Mike Scott is in a four-person field that includes retired educator John McGaugh, Assistant Superintendent Jimmy Weeks and Shannon High School Principal Robert Smith.
Scott and McGaugh will square off in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, while Weeks and Smith will meet in the Republican primary. The winner of each primary advances to the Nov. 8 general election.
McGaugh had announced in late June that he was pulling out of the race because of personal health reasons. He soon learned that it was too late to remove his name from ballot, which had already been printed, and has said recently that he essentially remains in the race.
“I thought I had withdrawn from the race for three weeks, but I found out you can’t withdraw from the race,” he said. “I continue to be in the race.”
If elected, McGaugh said that he would serve to the best of his ability.
The race has been a heated one, filled with several controversies, including Scott’s affair with a school district employee and the news that a company owned by Weeks handled subcontracting work for the school district last summer.
TUPELO – Lee County Superintendent Mike Scott will face competition from his assistant superintendent, one of his high school principals and a retired district educator this year as he seeks to maintain his job as the school district’s top educator.
Scott, a Democrat, has held the position since winning an unopposed election in 2007. This time, the challenge will be stiffer.
John McGaugh, who retired three years ago as Saltillo Primary principal, will meet Scott in the Democratic Primary on Aug. 2. Meanwhile, Lee County Assistant Superintendent Jimmy Weeks and Shannon High School Prinicpal Robert Smith will vie for the Republican nomination.
The winners will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.
That election will begin to heat up as the school year winds down and candidates turn their focus to campaigning to lead the 6,700-student district.
It will also carry more intrigue than most elections. For one, Scott and Weeks, whose officers are across a hallway from each other, will be vying for the same job. Each said that it has not affected their working relationship.
The election will also mark the first time that Scott has gone before voters since the details of his affair with district employee Lisa Franks became public last summer.
Below are brief profiles of the four candidates in this year’s election.
Scott touts the district’s academic success during his time in office. In the latest state accountability rankings, Lee County was ranked Successful, the third highest of seven levels assigned by the state based upon state test scores. Eight of the district’s 11 schools improved their rankings, and four were ranked High Performing, the second-highest tier.
Saltillo High was one of four Mississippi schools to be nominated for a national Blue Ribbon Award this year. It will learn its fate this fall.
“We have a plan in place I think is working,” Scott said. “It is moving our district forward. Student achievement is as high as it has ever been in this district.”
Scott said his goal will be to get the districts’ teachers “all of the professional development we can get them” to improve quality of instruction and to engage students.
“One area we are strong in is our teachers engaging students because we don’t have discipline issues in a district this size, and that is a credit to our teachers,” Scott said.
Since retiring three years ago as principal at Saltillo Primary, McGaugh has worked for a company that sells technology to schools. He said he was contacted by numerous people who asked him to run for superintendent.
“I don’t like what I see happening with the direction our district is going,” he said. “I want to restore the pride and confidence citizens have had in the past with the Lee County School District.”
McGaugh said that the district needs to be “more fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ money” and put more of it into classrooms instead of administration. He would also like to see more community input.
“When major decisions are made concerning schools and community, I want the community to be more involved in the decision-making process,” he said, citing the possibility of town-hall-style community meetings.
McGaugh also said that he is a big supporter of community elementary schools and that he would like to increase vocational offerings.
Weeks has been assistant superintendent since July after spending the previous seven years as Mooreville Elementary principal. He was motivated to run by his two children, saying that he wanted to do what he felt would give not only his kids, “but all students in Lee County the best opportunity.”
Weeks is the youngest candidate in the field and said that will be an advantage.
“I’m still young and have a lot of passion and energy,” he said. “If I’m successful, I’d like to be superintendent for a long time so we; myself, the school board, parents and teachers; will have enough time to accomplish a lot of good things for kids.”
Among his priorities, Weeks wants to ensure that the district has safe and orderly schools. He’d like to add a school resource officer on every campus.
He’d also like to improve the relationship between Lee County’s schools and its community and parents.
Weeks is the son of former Lee County Superintendent Cecil Weeks.
Smith is in his first year as Shannon High School principal after 16 years leading Mooreville High School. He was motivated to make that switch by a desire to help improve a struggling school. It was a similar desire that motivated him to enter the superintendent race, he said.
“My goal has been to try to make things better,” Smith said. “A lot of people see things as a terrible situation, and I see it as an opportunity to help kids.
“That is why I’m running for superintendent. I see it as an opportunity to make things better throughout the county.”
Smith said that Mooreville was rife when discipline problems when he came there but that it was soon ranked at the top of the state’s ratings.
Among his goals, Smith cites the responsible stewardship of the school district’s financial resources and the equitable distribution of those resources among all Lee County Schools.
If elected, he said he would cut the position’s $120,000 salary by $15,000 and use that money to support classroom teachers.
He’d also like to see a district-wide code of ethics so that everyone has the same rules, from teachers to administrators.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AGE: 39 EXPERIENCE: Currently assistant superintendent. 14.5 years as an educator. One year as assistant superintendent and 10 years as principal. Led Mooreville Elementary for seven years and was also principal for one year at Verona and two years at Nettleton Primary. Taught at Verona and Guntown Middle.
WHY HE’S RUNNING: “With me having children in school, I felt like I wanted to do the best job I could not only for my own children but for all children in the school district.”
AGE: 56 EXPERIENCE: Currently Shannon High School principal. 31 years as an educator, including 17 years as a high school principal. Has 14 years of teaching and coaching experience. Spent five years as head strength and conditioning coach at Mississippi State.
WHY HE’S RUNNING: “I decided to run for superintendent because I felt like the district and the voters needed to have a choice in this election. I think that position needs to be someone totally committed to schools and the kids and someone who is dedicated and has a strong ethical background.”
AGE: 56 EXPERIENCE: Has been superintendent since 2008. 33 years as an educator. 12 years as an administrator at Shannon High School, including three as principal. 29 years total at Shannon High School, where he also served as head football and basketball coach.
WHY HE’S RUNNING: “I hope to continue the success we’ve had in the last 3.5 years. The focus has been on student achievement, and that will continue to be the focus.”
AGE: 57 EXPERIENCE: Retired after 31 years as an educator. Currently works for a company that sells technology to schools. Was an administrator for 14 years at Saltillo Elementary and Saltillo Primary. Also taught math in Guntown for 11 years and spent six years as principal at Dorsey.
WHY HE’S RUNNING: “I have decided to run for the superintendent position because I believe I have the teaching and administrative experience needed to best lead the Lee County School District.”