By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
OKOLONA – Dr. Jerry Woods is the new Superintendent of the Okolona School District following a community interview and vote by the Okolona School Board Sunday afternoon.
Woods, currently a scholastic auditor for the State of Arkansas, brings experience as superintendent at three school districts, a 25-year career in education and a Doctorate of Curriculum from the University of Mississippi to his new post.
“I want to tie our school district with businesses and industry in this community,” said Woods. “I want to meet the team and identify who the stakeholders are in this community and get them involved in this process. It is very obvious Okolona has a lot of community support and they want better schools.”
Woods was one of three candidates for the district’s top spot.
Dexter Green, a principal with Tunica County Schools and a 23-year veteran educator, and Dr. Debra Dace, also with Tunica County Schools, a test and curriculum coordinator and math teacher, were also interviewed Sunday.
Sunday’s meeting saw the community gather at Rockwell Auditorium and each of the three candidates posed five questions. Two questions where asked by school board members, two by community leaders and one by an Okolona teacher.
Okolona had nine people apply for the job of superintendent and narrowed that list to three finalists. The each finalist had been interviewed at length by the school board earlier in the week.
Woods said his first 100 days will be spent meeting the community and developing both long-term and short-term goals for the district.
Woods said he will be looking closely at the district’s financial situation.
“I want to look at our current (program) contracts and see if we are getting the best mileage out of them,” said Woods. “We have to be financially solvent. We have to tighten our belt. We need to do that wisely.”
Woods also said attracting good teachers and retaining them will be major focus for Okolona.
“I think we need to promote Okolona as a place that teachers want to be and we need to advertise in places that will attract the type of teacher we are looking for,” said Woods. “Then we need to give administrative support to those teachers in the classroom and deal with discipline problems so they can teach. I have found if you do those two things, it means a lot to teachers.”
A native of Jackson, Tenn., Woods graduated from Lambuth University in 1976 and obtained his Masters in Education from the University of Memphis.
A former special education teacher, Woods was a principal in the Jackson, Tenn., school district.
He was also a superintendent at Covington School District and Clinton School District in Tennessee. He was most recently superintendent at Forrest City, Ark., from 2008 to 2012.
“We have been very pleased with the interview process and the level of candidates,” said Okolona School Board President Jerome Smith. “This was one of the first tasks this board took on when we held our first meeting Jan. 7. We are pleased we are at this point.”
The new five-member Okolona School District Board of Trustee, made up of Smith, Sara L. Jenkins, William “Bill” Stewart, William E. Bailey and Nancy Sullivan, were seated in December.
The Okolona district went into conservatorship in February 2010 due to poor academic rankings and financial instability. The school board was dissolved and the superintendents’ post vacated when a state conservator was named.
The district came out from under state sanctions last summer. Smith says the new board has made selecting a new superintendent a top priority.
Woods first day as Superintendent of Okolona School District will be Monday, April 1.