By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – All seven City Council members spoke in support of Kenneth Wheeler on Tuesday night before unanimously approving him to Tupelo’s school board.
Wheeler, chief of security at North Mississippi Medical Center, will begin serving his five-year term immediately. He replaces Lee Tucker, whose term expired earlier this month.
Law requires school board members be recommended by the mayor and approved by the City Council. Once the city appoints a school board member, it has no control over him or her.
Because of recent community frustrations with the school district – including declining test scores, concerns about discipline and the controversial firing of a popular choral teacher – the council asked Mayor Jack Reed Jr. for the opportunity to meet individually with any candidate before taking a vote. Each council member recently met with Wheeler for about an hour, Reed said Tuesday.
Based on the comments council members made before Tuesday’s vote, they liked what they heard.
“I don’t think we can have anyone any better serve on the school board,” said Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis.
Ward 1’s Markel Whittington said Wheeler brings “a lot of courage and conviction” that the board needs, and Ward 4’s Nettie Davis said she has known Wheeler since his youth.
“I will be praying for Kenneth because he is taking on one of the most important tasks,” Nettie Davis said. “I know he will make great decisions, and I pray he will keep all of the citizens and parents in mind.”
Council members asked Wheeler to keep open lines of communication with them, and Wheeler said he intended to find creative ways to do so.
“I know you will do a good job,” said Jim Newell of Ward 3. “You will be receptive to the public, which is what we need.”
Wheeler also thanked Tucker for his service to the board.
Wheeler said in his current job he has to handle difficult situations, but he strives for professionalism and compassion.
“I am here to serve, and I am here to communicate,” he said.