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Couey resigns, Sewell named acting SSD superintendent

April 27, 2011

By PAUL SIMS
sdnnews@bellsouth.net

Following a protracted executive session from which the public was excluded, the Starkville School District Board on Wednesday accepted the resignation of Superintendent Judy Couey - who had been on an “indefinite leave of absence” since the board’s last meeting.
Couey cited her health as the reason for her resignation. The search for a Couey’s replacement may take some time as school officials have yet to form a plan to replace her.
The SSD Board met in executive session for nearly two and a half hours Wednesday.
After reopening the meeting to the public, the board announced two key, unanimous votes taken in executive session.
The first was to accept Couey’s resignation and authorize Board President Pickett Wilson to sign documents related to this action. The second was to name Beth Sewell, currently the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, acting superintendent and give her and Walter Gonsoulin, assistant superintendent for operations and federal programs, salary adjustments of 15 and 10 percent respectively. Gonsoulin will obtain a pay increase as he serves as the district’s lone assistant superintendent.
Prior to the adjustments, Gonsoulin and Sewell each made approximately $96,390 annually. With the increases, Sewell’s salary will be approximately $110,848 and Gonsoulin’s about $106,029.
Couey’s salary was $130,000 annually.
The board also acted unanimously to accept the April 20 meeting minutes, which were released Wednesday. The minutes reflect action taken on April 20 that the board refused to confirm after that meeting.
On April 20, the board voted unanimously to direct Couey to take administrative leave and permitted special counsel Ben Piazza to consult with Couey through her attorney on her continued employment at the district.
When asked about the reason they put Couey on administrative leave, Wilson said: “It’s a personnel matter. It’s confidential.”
In her resignation letter, Couey cited her health as the reason for her departure.
“The superintendency of any district is a demanding job requiring total focus on the position. Due to my need and desire to focus on my health, I hereby tender my resignation,” Couey said in the letter, in which she thanked the school board for “a wonderful opportunity” at the district. Couey was not present at Wednesday’s meeting.
Her resignation will be effective June 30.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Wilson said officials have not discussed the search process but would likely bring it up in a special meeting as it was probably too late to add it to Tuesday’s regular meeting, which is set for 7 p.m. “We’ve got to do some homework,” she said regarding the search.
“We do not anticipate that in eight weeks we’re going to be able to hire someone because we’re going to be very deliberate and do a thorough search,” Wilson said.
Officials will likely change Sewell’s title from acting to interim superintendent after Couey’s resignation is effective, Wilson said.
Administrators, principals, teacher, parents and the community will be included in the search process, she said.
School officials want the next superintendent to be someone who is a visionary leader in the areas of instruction, operations and finance, they said in a statement.
In naming Sewell, they desired someone who did not plan to seek the position permanently but did want someone who could continue the initiative to achieve its goal of becoming a high-performing school district and increase the graduation rate to 75 percent by 2012, school officials said in the statement. The rate currently stands at 60.4 percent.

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