By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mayor Jack Reed Jr. will name longtime community volunteer and hospital security head Kenneth Wheeler to the Tupelo Public School District Board of Trustees today.
Wheeler is chief of security at North Mississippi Medical Center and has participated in numerous civic and educational endeavors, including the Police Athletic League, Association for Excellence in Education, Boys and Girls Club and Parents for Public Schools’ Parent Leadership Institute.
If the City Council approves his nomination, Wheeler will begin his five-year tenure on the school board immediately. He will replace Lee Tucker, whose term expired last month.
“He’s extremely well-qualified,” Reed said, “and his particular talents both vocationally and in the community demonstrate a shown interest in public schools.”
Reed said Wheeler’s background in security will be an asset to the district as it continues to confront tough decisions about discipline and safety. The mayor also noted that Wheeler’s own children came through Tupelo’s public schools with great success.
His oldest child graduated from Tupelo High School and the University of Mississippi and now works in the banking industry; his son will graduate from THS this year and has a full academic scholarship to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Wheeler said.
“It’s a position of a community’s highest honor when you can go and serve our children,” Wheeler said Monday. “The reputation of the school system, the safety of our staff and students, the academic performance of our students, and the fact they need to know we expect them to be their best – these are important things to me.”
Wheeler will join the board at a particularly difficult time. The Tupelo Public School District has weathered more than a year of turmoil including the abrupt exit of its former superintendent and the controversial firing of a popular high school choral director.
If he’s approved, Wheeler will be one of five board members. Others include President Eddie Prather, Vice President Beth Stone, Secretary Rob Hudson and past president Amy Heyer. Those interviewed said they are looking forward to working with Wheeler.
“I had the privilege of working with him through AEE,” Heyer said. “He has been generous with his time as a volunteer, and I think most of his efforts have been in support of the children of Tupelo.”
Prather said that Wheeler’s knowledge of a large organization and his background and insight into safety will be assets to the school district.
Incoming Superintendent Gearl Loden said that he has heard great things about Wheeler.
“I am aware Mr. Wheeler has been very active in the community,” he said. “I look forward to working with him to continue Tupelo’s tradition of excellence.”
The board sets policy and can hire and fire superintendents. It also can uphold or overturn the hiring and firing decisions of the superintendent.
For this reason, and with increased community concerns about school performance, city leaders have been careful to screen possible candidates for a school board position. Reed said he interviewed Wheeler twice before recommending him privately to the council.
Each council member also was given an opportunity to meet one-on-one with Wheeler.
“The school board appointment is such a critical appointment,” said Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis. “I’ve been real disappointed in the performance of this present school board and some decisions they made. The community is looking at this real closely.”
Once the city appoints a school board member, it has no control over that member or the board. Council President Fred Pitts said he expects the vote to pass.
“I was very impressed,” Pitts said. “He has organizational strengths and security strengths, and going through what the hospital went through with the Baldrige awards is a huge asset.”
North Mississippi Medical Center won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2006.
Education reporter Chris Kieffer contributed to this report.