Rhodes named interim ed chief

JACKSON – Judy Rhodes, the former deputy state superintendent and director of educational accountability, will serve as interim state superintendent should the position become vacant as expected.
The state Board of Education met for more than three hours in a closed session Monday before announcing that Rhodes will be the interim replacement for Hank Bounds if he becomes the next commissioner of higher education. The College Board announced Bounds last week as its “preferred candidate” to be the next commissioner.
Next week Bounds will meet with university presidents and the staff of the Institutions of Higher Learning before the College Board makes a final decision, though that process is thought to be largely a formality.
State Board of Education members said they believe it is important to have someone in place immediately should Bounds leave his post overseeing kindergarten through 12th grade education to assume responsibility for the state’s eight public universities.
“Judy was the choice because of her professional experience, her familiarity with the state budgeting process and her knowledge of the policies and procedures within the state Department of Education,” said board member Claude Hartley of Tupelo. “She will be an excellent interim. She will not be a candidate for the permanent post.”
Martha Murphy of Booneville, a new member of the board, said she did not know Rhodes, but it is her understanding that “she is very capable. She is ready to go to work. During the transition, we want someone who can keep in place the initiatives we have started.
“I think the board feels strongly that we have some good initiatives that can help the state.”
Those initiatives center raising academic standards and performance, preventing dropouts and improving low-performing schools. Board members have indicated those priorities will continue with a new superintendent.
Also, during the three-hour meeting, the board decided on a search committee whose primary job will be to recommend a firm to help with the selection of a new superintendent. The committee will be chaired by board member Wayne Gann of Corinth. Hartley also will serve on the committee.
Hartley said the board expects a large number of applicants from throughout the nation and wants a professional firm to help go through those applicants and to ensure the confidentiality of the applicants.
Board chair Bill Jones of Petal said he hopes to conclude the search within 90 days, but is not as concerned about the length of the search as he is with finding the right person.
The selection of Rhodes was unanimous, though it appears other candidates were discussed.
Her experience working with the Legislature while at the state Department of Education is expected to be useful since the Legislature currently is at an impasse on developing a budget to fund state government, including local school districts, for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
“I am familiar to state legislators,” she said. “I feel comfortable in that role.”
Rhodes is currently serving as executive director of the 8,500-member Mississippi Professional Educators. She retired from the state Department of Education in 2005. The position of director of educational accountability was created in 1994 to report directly to the Legislature, governor and other entities on the annual assessment of educational programs.
Of her new position, she said, “I look forward to the challenge…I look forward to working with the board in transition, allowing them to hire a good superintendent. I think the board has put in place some good initiatives…Our first priority will be working with the Legislature to get a budget as soon as possible for the local school districts.”
Rhodes previously worked as director of the Governor’s Office of Job Development and before then was a math teacher.
She will be paid the pro rata share of an annual salary of $250,000.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal