MDE searching for new MSMS executive director


Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Education

The quickly approaching departure of the MSMS Executive Director presents the MDE with the task of finding a replacement.

Jordan Rogers, Web Layout Editor

Germain McConnell announced his departure from MSMS to work as chief of staff at Oxford High School starting Jan. 1, 2022, with his final days as executive director at MSMS scheduled for the end of December.

Within the last year, MSMS has gone through a number of changes within faculty, staff and teachers. However, a new executive director is a big shift for the future of the school.

MSMS requires faculty that are very understanding and inclusive, focusing on the needs of students as well as leading and planning strategically. The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) is in charge of the search for a new executive director. Dr. Nathan Oakley, chief academic director, gave The Vision insight on the process to replace Dr. McConnell.

MDE is in the process of advertisement for the position, which Dr. Oakley aims for it to be posted before the end of August. The MDE wants to broadcast the position not just to the state but across the country for potential applicants to see.

Applicants will be recruited and reviewed by an interview committee. MDE is currently compiling the committee; people from various backgrounds are wanted along with people who have experience at MSMS (faculty, alumni and the MSMS Foundation).

As to how particular they intend to be when reviewing applicants, Dr Oakley said, “I don’t think we are ruling out absolutely anything at this point; we want to see what comes in the applicant pool and see what background these folks may have.”

Once these applicants are screened and interviewed, finalists will be recommended to the Mississippi State Board of Education for approval. Oakley included consideration about having finalists travel to MSMS’s campus for at least one round of interviews in the budget.

Concerns surrounding the search process include the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the emerging delta variant, and the starting date for the new executive director. Dr. Oakley believes that despite the pandemic, the opportunity will be attractive and believes there will be a large response of applicants from various backgrounds.

Though starting in the middle of the school year will pose a challenge, it is not uncommon and will not greatly decrease the applicant pool.

“It is a greater challenge than an end of year/summer position,” Dr. Oakley said, “but we will take that in stride and move through the interview process and make the determination as we continue to proceed.”

The position itself requires the qualifications of a superintendent listed under state law. However, MDE is looking for key aspects within applicants. “Certainly we want a dynamic leader;” Dr. Oakley said, “someone who is passionate in mathematics and science, accelerated student learning and providing an intensive, academically-focused, rigorous setting.”

Dr. Oakley and MDE are receiving from faculty, alumni and the MSMS Foundation to gain a different perspective on what the MDE should be looking for. Most of the input he heard focused on budget, physical plant needs, planning and big goals for the school. The personality traits that were stressed were integrity, open-mindedness and being a good listener.

The MSMS executive director;s job is an at-will position, meaning it is not contract-based employment. Oakley said many MDE positions are like this, including his own job.

Dr. Oakley plans to create a period of overlap for the chosen executive director to onboard with Dr. McConnell. That way, they can spend time on campus and get acquainted before the appointee officially takes the job.

Dr. Oakley stated there was money in the MSMS budget to pay both Dr. McConnell and the new executive director during the overlap period. If it does not happen, the financial aspect will not be the barrier–it would be a matter of procedure and how it can be made possible.

Dr. Oakley plans to keep The Vision updated when the advertisement is posted and as progress is being made.. He stated that Carey Wright, State Superintendent of Education, wanted strong academic improvement within the state, so choosing a new director is important to the MDE.

If everything goes smoothly, Dr. Oakley plans to have someone finalized and the news released around November.