Search for Mississippi education chief to begin

Published 11:14 pm Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Any prospective candidate for the job of superintendent of education should expect to continue the programs and reforms already under way, the head of Mississippi’s Board of Education says.

“We’re simply not going to hire someone who wants to deviate from our ongoing objectives and programs,” said state Board of Education Chairman Bill Jone.

Jones’ comments came Monday after the board met in closed session to discuss naming an interim replacement for Hank Bounds, who is expected to soon leave his position as education superintendent. Bounds has been chosen the preferred candidate to become Mississippi’s commissioner of higher education, overseeing the university system.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The board voted to name Judy Rhodes interim superintendent if a vacancy arises, said Pete Smith, spokesman for the state Department of Education. Rhodes is the retired director of accountability for the agency.

Since assuming the superintendent’s post in 2005, Bounds has launched a series of ambitious projects, including a plan to redesign Mississippi’s high school system and to reduce the percentage of high school dropouts.

The five-year plan announced in 2006 was initially projected to cost the state $125 million for new courses, equipment, teacher retraining and the creation of career pathways that students in grades 10 through 12 can select.

Online courses, flexible classroom hours and more study options that included allowing students to earn college credit while still in high school were also among the components aimed at reducing the dropout rate.

Bounds also has successfully pushed for state laws to hold school administrators more accountable for failing districts and revamped the state’s system for rating school performance.

Bounds has said such changes were needed to help lift the state from the bottom nationally on standardized and assessment tests.

Some officials in the education community are urging the Board of Education to choose from within the state for Bounds’ replacement.

“I think it’s real critical that we find somebody who can step in and just keep things moving,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian.

Carmichael said one of the reasons Bounds had been effective was that he had worked in state education for years.

Bounds was principal at Lumberton High from 1996-2001, then spent two years as Pascagoula High School principal. He became Pascagoula schools superintendent in 2001.

Jones said there’s sentiment to choose someone from the state, but “that’s not the guiding principle.”

Sam Bounds, executive director of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents and no relation to Hank Bounds, said choosing an interim superintendent is just as important as the permanent hire. The interim will have to work with school districts as they complete their budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Lawmakers have been unable to reach a compromise on the state’s nearly $5 billion spending plan so districts don’t know how much money will be available. Gov. Haley Barbour is expected to call a special session sometime this month on the budget issue.