By Chris Kieffer and Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Randy Shaver’s brief tenure as Tupelo’s superintendent of schools came to an abrupt end on Tuesday.
Shaver will resign from the district as soon as he and the school board negotiate the early termination of his contract. That four-year deal that pays him $177,000 per year was set to expire in June 2013.
The school board announced its pending negotiations about Shaver’s departure at the conclusion of a specially-called meeting. All five board members discussed the personnel matter in executive session for nearly two hours before voting unanimously for the negotiations.
The board met with attorneys Guy Mitchell, Otis Tims and Kelly Stimpson, who represent the district and the board. Tims said Shaver’s current contract does not stipulate a buyout.
The exact date of Shaver’s departure isn’t yet known, nor are the terms of his early contractual release. That will be determined during negotiations, board president Amy Heyer said.
“It takes a while to work out those things,” she said.
Shaver’s departure comes on the heels of the latest of many community controversies to arise during the less than two years that he led the district. He assumed the superintendent’s job in July 2009 after leading the Whiteville, N.C., school district for two years.
Last week, the school district announced that Tupelo High School Principal Lee Stratton would be reassigned to another school within the district and that he would be replaced by Chris Barnes of North Carolina.
Shaver said he also told the board that night that he would be willing to resign over that decision.
“I told the Board in closed session on Tuesday of last week that the Stratton decision would result in a huge public backlash against me and that I was willing to make the sacrifice to get the right leader in the high school,” Shaver said in a written statement. “I felt that if it became as contentious as I thought it would that my leadership would distract the Board and the school system from its mission.
“A very real part of any superintendent’s job is to protect the integrity of the Board and the system. For me to stay on at this time would not accomplish that.”
The board decided on Tuesday to take him up on that. Its vote came one day after City Council members agreed to develop a resolution calling for Shaver and Assistant Superintendent Fred Hill to resign, saying that they had lost the trust and confidence of the public.
Due to Shaver’s resignation earlier Tuesday, council members decided not to read the resolution and instead issued a statement.
More than 180 people packed into the City Council chambers for the meeting, and about 120 more crowded just outside its doors. Most of them had participated in a march from the school district’s administrative office on Green Street to City Hall.
They cheered the council’s resolution and remarks from Mayor Jack Reed Jr. about Shaver’s departure.
“Dr. Shaver’s term here was filled with days of change,” he said. “He was charged among other things, with improving our student test scores and with improving our 40 percent dropout record.
“In retrospect, it has been the way he tried to implement his strategies that failed to enlist the trust and support of many teachers, parents and members of the community. He apparently realized that his presence had become so emotionally volatile that it was hurting the district.”
Referencing the Tupelo tornado that struck 75 years ago Tuesday, Reed said it is time for residents to show the same resiliency in rebuilding the school district.
“The citizens of Tupelo, whether in the 1930s, the 1960s or the 1990s have bounced back before,” he said. “Now it’s up to us. Now it’s our turn.”
The crowd also burst into applause several times during and after presentations made by three parents of students in the district.
Donna Daniels spoke about the laptop initiative, discipline and the erosion of standards.
Mark Weeden said that he believes Stratton to be the best choice to lead Tupelo High School.
“Mr. Stratton has the character, morals and respect that make a good leader,” he said. “There are very few people in this world that I would go to bat for, but Lee Stratton is one of them.”
Glenn Ross also supported Stratton, and said the key to meeting the needs of the district’s children is to listen to teachers.
“Our teachers and faculty have had their hands tied and they feel like they have no voice,” he said.
Longtime Tupelo resident Jane Carruth said the council meeting was productive.
“This meeting proves that parents, teachers and young people want what is best for this city, and Lee Stratton is best for this city,” she said.
Meanwhile, Barnes, the North Carolina educator the district had selected to replace Stratton at THS, said on Tuesday that he had rescinded his acceptance of the job and will remain at his current school.
Hill, the assistant superintendent who was also named in the council’s resolution, said he will remain in Tupelo unless he is forced to resign or is not renewed by the district.
“If I am asked to be back in Tupelo next year, I plan to be back in Tupelo next year,” he said.
Both Weeden and Councilman Markel Whittington said they would not be in favor of that.
“I feel like Fred Hill is an extension of Randy Shaver’s ideas on how a school system needs to be run, and I don’t think those ideas are in touch with Northeast Mississippi,” Weeden said.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s statement in full at council meeting is below.
This week of remembering the Tupelo Tornado of April 5, 1936 is a good time to recall how, for the past 75 years, we Tupeloans have absorbed tough challenges and bounced back. From a devastating tornado that killed and injured many of our people and destroyed and damaged many of our buildings, we pulled together to come out of the Depression stronger than before.
From the social challenges of the civil rights conflicts, we worked together around racial bias to have a public school system that was the envy of every town in Mississippi.
From the economic tsunami of losing thousands of furniture manufacturing jobs overseas we, through the far-sighted vision of our Community Development Foundation, courted and won the world’s No. 1. economic development prize: Tupelo’s newest state-of-the-art automobile plant, and the thousands of jobs that are coming with it.
Today we face the twin challenges of zero population growth with slumping sales tax revenues and public discontent with our public school system as it responds to issues – some is response to a changing community which it reflects, and some brought on by its own actions as it rise to implement the changes it sees (fit).
While the past few weeks have been more contentious than most would prefer, I think they can – and should – result in a renewed dedication by all citizens of goodwill to reaffirm that 1) we are all in this together and 2) we have the power to once again bounce back and reclaim both our city and our school system as a place of excellence – to live in and to learn in.
The best way to predict the future, someone has said, is to invent it. That is the goal of the Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Act. Its goal is to reinvigorate and grow our human capital by investing some of our public financial capital to inspire and leverage our citizens’ private capital.
It is an innovative, smart, practical package of plans developed by private citizen experts in their fields, led by our great CDF. The board of directors of CDF unanimously adopted recommending it to our Tupelo City Council in their meeting last week.
Our Tupelo Public School District Board is composed of five good, compassionate, bright, local men and women who care deeply about our school children and whose only mission is to do what is best for them. Dr. Shaver’s term here was filled with days of change. He was charged, among other things, with improving our students’ test scores and with improving our 40 percent dropout record. In retrospect, it has been the way he tried to implement his strategies that failed to enlist the trust and support of many teachers, parents and members of the community.
He apparently realized that his presence had become so emotionally volatile that it was hurting the district.
Randy Shaver has spent his entire adult lifetime in public education – as a teacher for 18 years, as a principal, as a superintendent. He has devoted himself to educating children. I am sorry that his time here with us in Tupelo turned out this way. Sorry for him. Sorry for us. I wish him and his wife, Carolyn, godspeed.
But our town is bigger than one man or one woman. Our task now is to rebuild – just as our ancestors 75 years ago tonight absorbed a devastating tornado and immediately began to rebuild.
How do we do it? By recommitting to pitch in ourselves – each in our own way. By supporting each other. By trusting each other.
Leadership changes generally generate both heat and light, whether they are in a church, a business, a school district, a city, a county, a state or a country.
What is fundamentally important, though, is our personal commitment to our church, or our business, or school district, or city, county, state or country.
This is our time to stand up and show what we are made of. I’m not willing to give up on our city. I’m not willing to give up on our school district. I’m going to keep trying to work as hard as I can, every day, to do what I can to be a positive force to strengthen both.
The citizens of Tupelo, whether in the 1930s, the 1960s or the 1990s, have bounced back before. Now it’s up to us. Now it’s our turn.