By STEVEN NALLEY
Oktibbeha County School District leaders announced the retirement of East Oktibbeha County High School’s principal and her immediate replacement at the district’s meeting Tuesday.
OCSD Assistant Superintendent Gale Shumaker came before OCSD conservator Jayne Sargent with a retirement letter from EOCHS principal Maggie Austin. Sargent approved Austin’s retirement and immediately announced her replacement: Ginger Cockrell, who had served as the district’s manager for special education.
“Ginger has done some substitution work at that school (in Austin’s stead), so she’s quite familiar with it,” Sargent said. “Ms. Austin has been out several days; she’s not very well right now. We’ll keep her in our minds and thoughts and prayers.”
Sargent said Cockrell is well-qualified for the position, with a specialist’s degree in administration. The OCSD’s director of special education, Candace Cooper, will take up the duties Cockrell had, she said, but she has not made immediate plans to refill Cockrell’s previous position.
Austin’s retirement marks the latest in a series of leadership changes at EOCHS. In September, then-Superintendent James Covington said Austin was the third principal EOCHS had in as many years.
West Oktibbeha County High School had its second principal in three years, he said at the time, but elementary school leadership was more consistent, and he directly correlated this disparity in leadership with the higher state test scores seen in the elementary schools versus the high schools.
“(In) high school, we have not had the consistency of building leadership,” Covington said in September. “If we can ever establish that consistency, those schools will mirror what the elementary schools are doing.”
Sargent hired a few personnel during the meeting and granted a West Oktibbeha County Elementary School teacher’s Family and Medical Leave Act request, but no personnel were terminated. She said the OCSD is already in communication with MSU about recruiting its graduates as new personnel, and MSU’s personnel have been helpful, but any firings of current personnel will likely wait until the academic year ends.
“You minimize disruption (that way), and instead of using substitutes, you want to have certified people in the field as (often as) you can,” Sargent said. “As an institution that’s local who helps us with our cadre of potential candidates, (MSU has) been alerted that we will very likely need their help in the future. Some recommendations (for replacing faculty and staff) may come at the end of the school year. I say that (without) promising that, because it won’t be me (in charge when those replacements happen.)”
Sargent’s tenure as conservator ends in December, and she said the state is not yet ready to reveal the conservator who will take over for the remainder of the academic year. Early in the meeting, Sargent bade the audience and the OCSD staff a fond farewell.
“Based on the time frame the state department has given me, this will probably be my last official board meeting,” Sargent said. “I really do want to take this opportunity to say how much I have enjoyed it, how much you have meant to me as a group, as a city and as a community. I thank you for all of your work; I thank you for your dedication to the children of this community. I’m going to miss you; I truly mean that.”