OUR OPINION: Challenges confront next superintendent

By NEMS Daily Journal

This school year started uneventfully in Tupelo. There was reason to be thankful for that.
The summer had put some distance between last year’s turmoil, which resulted in Superintendent Randy Shaver’s departure, and the beginning of a new year. A period of calm, which would be welcome, seemed at hand.
But now unhappiness and division over the firing of Tupelo High School choral director Calvin Ellis and his effort at reinstatement have interrupted that relative tranquility. The inexcusable and criminal exploitation and aggravation of those circumstances by whoever wrote the bomb threat note at THS on Friday made matters worse.
The Ellis situation won’t be settled until February at the earliest, when the school board will be faced with either upholding or reversing the administration’s decision after an appeal hearing is completed. In the meantime, the Friday calls from lawyers on both sides, as well as from the interim superintendent and the mayor, for calm and responsible behavior by people with an interest in the matter should be heeded.
The polarization on this issue will add further to the challenges a new superintendent will face when he or she comes on board sometime in 2012.
Last week was the deadline for applications for the position. The Tupelo school board’s Tuesday agenda includes a review of the status of the superintendent search.
There has been concern that last year’s disruptive controversy in the system might discourage some potential applicants. Latent public dissatisfaction erupted with the reassignment of then-THS principal Lee Stratton, including questionable intervention by the City Council, leading to Shaver’s abrupt exit after less than two years on the job. All that commotion hurt not only community unity in Tupelo but external perceptions of the school system as well.
The current controversy only reinforces the picture of a district, and particularly a high school, where a calm and stable atmosphere has been elusive.
Community and school constituencies interviewed by the district’s superintendent search consultant all see the selection of the next district leader to be critical not only for the school system but for the community as well. It must be a person who can bring extraordinary skills to the challenge of reuniting the community around its schools, thoroughly examining all systems and processes, and restoring the confidence necessary to get the system back on a sustainable track of high academic performance.
Much easier said than done, of course. But the community simply can’t afford the continuing drama that saps the school system of its strength and focus.