State gets IHL commissioner, now looks for K-12 boss

Who: Hank M. Bounds
Age: 41
New position: Commissioner of Institutions of Higher Learning
Previous positions: State superintendent of education, Pascagoula School District superintendent, school principal and teacher; experience teaching at the university level
Degrees: Undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi and doctorate from the University of Mississippi
Personal: He and his wife, Susie, have a son, Will, 8, and a daughter, Caroline, 5

By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Mississippi has a new commissioner of higher education, but in the process has lost its state superintendent of education.
As expected Wednesday, the Board of Trustees of state Institutions of Higher Learning, commonly called the College Board, announced it had chosen Hank M. Bounds, 41, a career educator on the kindergarten through 12th grade level, to oversee Mississippi’s eight public universities.
Bounds has served since August 2005 as Mississippi’s superintendent of education. He most likely will assume his new post in late July.
The College Board’s announcement of Bounds as its “preferred candidate” earlier this month was viewed as a surprise since he had no administrative experience on the university level.
But College Board member Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo said Wednesday the panel could not have made “a more universally popular selection.”
His support among state political leaders – Republican and Democrat – and in the business community, coupled with his aggressive reform-minded agenda for K-12, were viewed as a positive among members of the College Board. Plus, Bounds has been a successful fundraiser as state superintendent.
“Dr. Bounds is well-respected in education circles in general,” Patterson said. “He has all the tools to be a resounding success.”
Wednesday, Bounds met with and answered questions from various “constituency groups,” such as the university presidents, the IHL staff, students, members of the public.
Eric Clark, executive director of the state Board for Community and Junior Colleges, attended the session and said he looks forward to continuing to work with Bounds to create a seamless system from the pre-kindergarten level to higher education.
After the morning question-and-answer session, the 12-member College Board selected Bounds by a unanimous vote in a closed-door session.
“I think he will bring energy and enthusiasm, a real vision,” said Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, adding he attended the interviews of the candidates for the post and said Bounds stood out among several candidates.
“I look forward to working with him.”
At the news conference where the College Board announced Bounds, he said growing up in rural south Mississippi near Brooklyn, “I never thought I would have the opportunity to even get a college degree. Certainly, I never thought I would have the opportunity to lead Mississippi’s K-12 schools nor the privilege to serve as the commissioner of higher education.”
Bounds was joined at the news conference in the IHL board room in Jackson by his wife, Susie, and his two children, ages 8 and 5.
At the news conference and at the meetings with constituency groups earlier in the day, Bounds dealt head-on with his lack of experience in higher education administrative posts.
“I will be on a learning curve, but we have such great folks to help me learn,” he said, adding that he believes he has leadership skills that will benefit the universities.
“I view this (IHL staff) as a service agency,” he told the university presidents earlier in the day. “I think our job is to help the universities to be successful.”
College Board member Ed Blakeslee of Gulfport and other members cited Bounds’ work as superintendent on such programs as developing a tougher curriculum, improving accountability and working to reduce the dropout rate as reason he was selected.
But more importantly, most likely, was his ability to forge alliances.
Bounds said those programs also were supported by the state Board of Education and would continue under a new superintendent. The Board of Education has begun the process of finding a replacement for Bounds.
Bounds called it “bittersweet” to leave the superintendent’s post, a position he assumed days before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast where he previously was superintendent of the Pascagoula schools.
Bounds stressed that a good education system at all levels is the key to economic progress for the state.
“K-12 and the universities are absolutely dependent on each other,” he said.
The post pays $341,250 annually.
Aubrey Lucas, former president of the University of Southern Mississippi, has been serving as interim higher ed commissioner. He replaced Thomas Meredith, who stepped down in November after being embroiled in a controversy over free landscaping work at his Jackson area home.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal