By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
The Starkville School District Board of Trustees will conduct the last of five semifinalist interviews for superintendent candidates tonight, moving the district one step closer to filling the position.
School board president Keith Coble said the board will begin discussions to narrow down the list to finalists tonight following the final interview. If the board members reach an agreement tonight, those names should be released by Friday.
The finalists will be interviewed during a community forum event at the Starkville High School Theatre tentatively scheduled for Monday at 5:30 p.m., though Coble said that date will not be finalized until all the candidates confirm their availability.
During the forum, each candidate will be given the chance to give a brief presentation before the board interviews them with questions submitted by community stakeholders. A reception will be held in the library following the forum, giving the candidates a chance to interact with the public.
The school board will hold its regular meeting on Monday at 4 p.m. at the Greensboro Center before the public interviews.
The candidates bring a variety of qualifications to the table, but they all have doctorate degrees and experience as either an assistant superintendent or a superintendent, which were both high on the list of qualities the school board wanted in a superintendent. Three of the five candidates even come from districts represented by a yellowjacket mascot, just like SSD.
Lewis Holloway is the Bulloch County School District Superintendent in Statesboro, Ga. His district consists of nine elementary schools, three middle schools, three high schools and a Transitions Learning Center. It is recognized as one of 20 Georgia High Flying School Districts based on academic performance.
Holloway has also served as a superintendent in Clarke County, Ga., Bentonville, Ark., and in districts in Alaska and Mississippi.
Assistant Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin is a familiar face to many in the Starkville School District. He first worked within the district in 2000 when he was the assistant director of Millsaps Career and Technology Center. Currently, he is the district’s assistant superintendent.
Gonsoulin is part of a team that is responsible for improving achievement scores across the district, raising the graduation rate and decreasing the dropout rate, the accomplishment of which he said he is most proud.
“As superintendent, I think I can bring a passion and a vision to the district. I know where we are now, and I have done extensive research on how to turn a successful school district into a high performing district and then a star school district,” he said. “I also think that I am very approachable. I’m not always in the office; I’m out meeting people, and I listen to what they have to say.”
Gonsoulin said his familiarity with the school district and the Starkville community is one of his strengths.
“You never know what the school board is looking for, so I don’t know if it gives me an edge on the other candidates, but for me, it is advantageous to have that knowledge and to have been here. And if I am chosen, the transition would be smooth for me, and I could hit the ground running,” he said. “For me as a candidate for superintendent, I am here as a part of Starkville — I’m not stopping by; I’m not passing through. This is my home, and I plan on living here far past my tenure with the Starkville School District.”
Michael McInnis is the superintendent of the Union City School District. The district is small but is ranked as high performing based on academic performance. Since he became superintendent in 2007, the district has added a preschool and upgraded technology in every classroom. McInnis said he maintains an open-door policy with not only teachers and staff, but with parents and the community as well.
“Starkville has got everything in place. I don’t see anything that is lacking that would prevent them from becoming a star school district. My number one goal is for Starkville to be not only a star district, but the best district in the state,” he said.
David Andy Parker is the principal of Bay St. Louis-Waveland High School and the former Pascagoula School District assistant superintendent. He said he is very familiar with the Starkville community. He is a 1989 Mississippi State University graduate and often returns to Starkville for games.
“I’m at a point in my career where I’m ready to be a superintendent. There are certain places in the state where I have targeted my search, and Starkville is certainly one of those places,” he said. “I have a great deal of experience, but I also hope to bring a sense of humor and a positive attitude to the position.”
Parker said he is dedicated to the community he serves and hopes he can soon become a part of the Starkville community.
Michael Van Winkle is the assistant superintendent of the Jackson County School District and manages the St. Martin Attendance Center. The district consists of two elementary schools, an upper elementary school, a middle school and a high school. The district lost two schools during Hurricane Katrina but maintained its ranking as a high performing district, which Van Winkle said was one of his proudest moments as an administrator.
“I bring an attitude of a hard worker. I come from a high performing district, and I can bring that knowledge of what it would take to get the Starkville School District to that level,” he said. “I’m a person that would be committed to the community as well as the school district. I would be involved in church as well as some other activities within the community.”