TPSD taps pair of new principals

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

UPDATE: Tupelo High School students confirmed there was a large number of students who protested around 10 a.m. at the High School chanting for the return of Lee Stratton as principal today. A Twitter message from students said there will be another protest Thursday at 7:35 a.m. Sports Country confirmed they are printing t-shirts saying “We back Strat.”

TUPELO – Lee Stratton’s time as principal at Tupelo High School will not be extended, as the district’s school board on Tuesday announced new principals at its two secondary schools.
Chris Barnes, principal of a prekindergarten through eighth-grade school in North Carolina, will be the new principal at Tupelo High School, effective July 1. Tupelo Middle School Assistant Principal Kristy Luse will become that school’s principal in July, replacing the retiring Linda Clifton.
Stratton will be reassigned within the district, although his next position has not yet been determined or announced. Superintendent Randy Shaver would not comment about Stratton’s non-renewal at THS, and Stratton could not be reached Tuesday night.
A large group of THS parents and teachers attended Tuesday’s meeting held at Tupelo Middle School and lingered afterward to express their disapproval that Stratton will not remain as THS’ leader after one year on the job.
One of them, parent Glenn Ross, said he is a big supporter of Stratton and he is upset they were not consulted about the change.
Barnes, 41, will be the high school’s fourth principal in three years. The 20-year educator has been principal of Sparta Elementary School for the past four years. The school has an enrollment of 700 students.
After receiving his bachelor degree in English from St. Michael’s College in Vermont, he spent his first 11 years in education as a counselor and administrator at the Eckerd Youth Alternatives Inc. program, a wilderness education facility that works with at-risk or delinquent students.
He crossed paths with Tupelo Superintendent Randy Shaver for one year when he was an assistant principal of Western Guilford County High School in North Carolina, where Shaver was principal. However, he said that was more of a coincidence in his decision to apply for the job.
“I’ve been looking for what is next for me professionally,” he said. “The idea of being a principal at a high school excited me.”
Barnes, who has an 8-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, said he was impressed by his visit to THS.
“The school has been on a track to excellence for several years,” he said. “I’ve been really impressed by the innovation at the school now.
“I was most interested by the opportunity to work with an innovative district to use 21st-century tools to educate kids for the jobs they will face when they leave school.”
Tupelo High School is the district’s flagship school but is currently ranked Academic Watch, the fourth of seven levels in state rankings that are based on state test scores. The district recently sent eight members of its administrative staff to the school to help improve its discipline and academics.
“Mr. Barnes has a proven track record of providing the strong instructional leadership that is needed to improve the school’s accountability rating,” Shaver said in a statement.
Although the district had not announced that Stratton would not be returning to the high school, it had advertised for a secondary principal since Clifton announced last fall that she would be leaving TMS. Director of Personnel Jim Turner said that both Barnes and Luse emerged from that search.
Luse has been an educator for 18 years, including 12 in the Tupelo School District. She has spent 11 of those years at Tupelo Middle, where she began as a teacher of science and fast-track math. She has been the school’s assistant principal for the last six years.
“My biggest goal is to continue to serve our at-risk students and our special-need students and also meet the needs of parents in the community,” she said. “I want to build on our fine arts enrichment program and our community partnerships.”
When Shaver announced Luse’s promotion at Tuesday’s board meeting, it drew applause from several people in attendance.
“Dr. Luse has proven to be an effective instructional leader that is able to successfully collaborate with faculty, build teams and, perhaps most importantly, inspire the faculty and students to always do their best,” Shaver said in a statement.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or

Contact the new THS leader
– New THS Principal Chris Barnes encourages teachers and parents to contact him with questions. For now, they can reach him at He said he will visit with the THS staff in mid-April and will get a local phone number that he will then make public.

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