The two candidates for the George County School District’s top job differed more in the length of answers they gave to questions than in their differences of opinion. (Well, maybe almost top job. Candidate Wade Whitney half-jokingly admitted the top job is probably that of head football coach.)

   The two finalists in the school board’s months long search for a new superintendent are Whitney, who is currently the principal at George County High School, and Veronica Landry, formerly school superintendent at Bay St. Louis.

   In an effort to introduce the two candidates to the public, and perhaps to receive some community feedback, the school board held a forum last Friday evening at the George County campus of MGCCC. Each candidate was given 10 minutes to make an opening presentation, and then they spent the rest of the hour answering questions. The questions were limited to those submitted to the Mississippi School Board Association by email. No questions were taken from the roughly 100 – 125 people in the audience.

   Most of the audience was current or retired teachers and school district staff members.

   Each candidate answered the same questions, alternating who answered first.

   Landry introduced herself as a graduate of Northeast Jones High  School, beginning her career as a classroom teacher in the Laurel School District before becoming the district librarian.  She moved to the coast in 2002 and spent the last 16 years in the Bay St. Louis – Waveland School District.  While in the BWSD, she served the district in different roles.  These included federal programs director, district test coordinator, curriculum coordinator, assistant superintendent and superintendent.

   Armed with both promotional brochures and a PowerPoint presentation, Whitney introduced himself as a graduate of South Alabama University who spent 25 years in the Mobile County Public School System. He has been the George County High School principal for the past four years. Under his leadership, GCHS has achieved an “A” ranking for the past two years.

   In the question and answer session Whitney tended to give much more expansive answers, although both candidates seemed aligned in their responses. On two occasions, when Whitney was given the opportunity to answer first, Landry pointed at Whitney and quipped, “What he said,” before giving her own answer.

   School board member Mike Steede acted as moderator, asking the submitted questions. The candidates were not given the questions beforehand. An abbreviated sampling of the answers to the questions are as follows:

   Both candidates said living in the county would be important for the next superintendent, and if selected, would move to George County.

   Both talked about the current teacher shortage and the necessity of mentoring and giving support to new teachers coming into the district.

   Both spoke to the importance of literacy and the “three Rs.” Whitney said every class every day should include both reading and writing.

   Both said educating the “whole child” was important, not only academically, but also in social skills and physically. Whitney suggested the district should look at expanded athletic opportunities with sports not currently offered such as archery and bowling.

   Both, in different ways, addressed unifying the curriculum at each school. In this way, a student at Benndale, for example, moving to Central or some other elementary school within the district during the school year would be at exactly the same point in classroom work. Both also talked about the need for communication between elementary school and middle school teachers and middle school and high school teachers. This communication would ensure students were being prepared for the work expected of them in middle school and high school.

   Unfamiliar with the district, Landry joked about “landmine” questions when asked about school uniform policy and increasing the county ad valorem millage allocated to the school district. She said she believed in students wearing uniforms, but the policy could be as simple as polo shirts and khaki slacks.

   Whitney said the district had a uniform policy and as long as it did, it would be enforced.

   In reference to the millage, Landry said schools asked for dollar amounts, not mills. She said state law allowed districts to request a three-percent increase from the local taxing body each year, adding few did that. She did say it should be done occasionally because if it was not requested, it was money lost forever.

   Whitney said the district was already receiving about 49 mills of the roughly 55 mills state law allows and he did not anticipate any tax increases.

   School board president Barkley Henderson said the school board hopes to be able to announce its choice for superintendent by the August meeting.

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