Board sets qualities required in new superintendent

JACKSON — A new Mississippi superintendent of education should be able to work with lawmakers, put students first in decisions and be able to navigate the state’s diversity, say local superintendents and members of the state Board of Education.

Those are among qualities state board members voted late last week to include on Mississippi’s call for applications for a new superintendent. Now that the board has approved language, search firm Ray and Associates will be begin advertising the position and soliciting applicants. Board members hope to make a selection by October. Interim Superintendent Lynn House has served since Tom Burnham resigned last year. She isn’t a candidate for the permanent post.

Ray and Associates sent a survey to state board members and some local superintendents, asking about qualities the new superintendent should have. The top-ranked quality was “able to work with legislators,” possibly reflecting the heavy focus on new education measures since Republicans took control of the Mississippi Legislature in 2012.

Bill Newman said Ray and Associates said consultants had interviewed a number of other state leaders, including Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.

“The governor and lieutenant governor both were basically very supportive,” Newman said.

Newman said a number of respondents said they wanted a superintendent who would serve for a long time, describing the sentiment as: “We need someone who will come in and create some tenure in the position and some continuity.”

No superintendent since 1984 has served more than five years at a stretch. Burnham and Richard Thompson, who each served a pair of separated terms, had more than five years combined. Newman said the average tenure of superintendents placed by his firm is eight years.

Semifinalists will be asked to fill out a psychological profile, a step board members approved at the urging of board member John Kelly of Gulfport.

He said such tests are given to some applicants for jobs with the city of Gulfport, where he is chief administrative officer. Search consultants also emphasized that they would conduct a background check as part of the screening process.

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