No rush to replace superintendent

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The Mississippi Board of Education apparently has no plans to act quickly to replace state Superintendent Tom Burnham, who will retire at the end of the month.
The nine-member board has yet to begin the official process of replacing Burnham and it is not clear when the search will begin.
The reasons for the deliberative process apparently are twofold:
* Last month the board appointed Lynn House, deputy superintendent for instructional enhancement and internal operations, as the interim superintendent. The members say they are comfortable with House filling the post as the state’s top educator for an extended period.
* Two new members are joining the board and the plan is to allow them to become acclimated before beginning what is arguably the most important function of the panel, which is charged with setting policy that governs the state’s 152 school districts.
“Dr. House will be able to keep us going while we do a thorough search,” said board member Jackie Murphy of Rienzi.
Murphy said it is important to get the right person to serve as superintendent because of efforts to strengthen accountability standards and the curriculum. “I think we are in a unique place to move forward and get the state off the bottom,” she said.
Board Vice Chairman Wayne Gann of Corinth said no decisions have been made on the scope of the search or whether to hire a search firm. He said it is important to give two new members time to get acquainted with their duties so they can have input on the search.
“My impression is that we need to take our time,” Gann said. “I don’t know if that means one month, two months, three months to begin the process. I don’t know.
“But I do know that when you have new members it takes them a little while to get acclimated.”
The June meeting – held last week – was the first for Thomas Richard Morrison of Brandon, who replaces Sue Matheson. Matheson resigned from the school administrator slot on the board after retiring as superintendent of the Pass Christian School District.
And next month Simon Finger Weir II will join the board, replacing Claude Hartley of Tupelo who has served since 2000.
Hartley, who has been involved in multiple searches during his tenure and previously during 10 years on the Tupelo School Board, said, “I would go nationwide to find the best available person. One of my prerequisites would be that the new superintendent be an agent for change.
“The new members need to be in place, but they don’t need to put it off forever. Dr. House is a good person and will do a good job, but she is the interim.”
The current system of an appointed state board and superintendent was initiated with a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 1982. Prior to that, state superintendents were elected.
The state’s first appointed superintendent, Richard Boyd, came from out of state. Boyd was an Ohio native working in his native state when he was tabbed to head the Mississippi educational system in the 1984. The second superintendent, Richard Thompson, came from in-state; he was Tupelo superintendent when appointed in 1990.
Burnham is a Mississippian who is finishing his second stint as state superintendent. Before his first stint in the 1990s, he was a superintendent in Biloxi. Before being hired for a second tenure in 2009, he was dean of education at the University of Mississippi.
Boyd served a second stint in the 1990s as interim superintendent during a search. Before Burnham’s second tenure, former Oxford Superintendent John Jordan served as interim state superintendent.
Said House: “It is a weighty responsibility to continue the good things Dr. Burnham has initiated to help our state grow.”
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com