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UPDATED: SSD trims superintendent list to three


David Miller



STARKVILLE -- Experience played a significant factor in the Starkville School District board of trustees selection of finalists for superintendent, said Board President Keith Coble.  


Lewis Holloway, superintendent of Bulloch County, Ga., and Michael McInnis, superintendent of Union School District are among the three who'll interview in a public forum Monday, the board announced Friday. Michael Van Winkle, assistant superintendent of Jackson County School District, is also a finalist.  


Starkville School District's Walter Gonsoulin, who enters his fifth year as an assistant superintendent, did not make the cut. Bay High Principal and former Pascagoula Schools Assistant Superintendent David Andy Parker was also eliminated from contention.  


Holloway and McInnis were the only semifinalists with experience running a district. Holloway has more than 25 years under his belt, with stops in Arkansas, Mississippi and Georgia. Additionally, Van Winkle oversees an attendance center of more than 4,000 students.  


"Sometimes, certain things about a candidate resonated more than another," Coble, said. "But in the end, we had a good pool and it was hard to get down to three. We reached a unanimous consensus on who we thought were the top three candidates to bring back Monday." 


Lewis, who has a master's degree from Mississippi State University and relatives in Columbus, said he was impressed with how much the city had grown since he earned his degree in 1976. He said his time away from Starkville, most of which was spent running a school district, should have and most likely did seal his position in the final three. 


"Being in that chair is helpful in anticipating future items," he said. 


Van Winkle, who oversees the St. Martin Attendance Center in Jackson County, also felt his experience played a role in his selection. 


"That's what I was looking at when I told my wife I'd been selected," he said. "They chose the two superintendents and me, probably because of the fact I do run an attendance center bigger than the Starkville district." 


Gonsoulin, who also was a finalist for jobs in Louisiana and Alabama, said he respects the board's decision and will be loyal to whomever is hired. He isn't sure why he didn't make the cut but admitted experience could have played a role.  


"I've always wanted it to be a fair process, and it has been," Gonsoulin said. "How hard I work for this district and the people of this city won't change. I'm just thankful for the opportunity." 


Last week, SSD Board Attorney Dolton McAlpin sent a letter to district employees regarding misuse of school time to lobby support for Gonsoulin. According to the memo, some school employees felt pressured to support Gonsoulin, who addressed the issue and discouraged initial attempts to rally support.  


Coble said the issue didn't come up during the board's two-hour discussion to narrow the list of finalists. 


Holloway, McInnis and Van Winkle will each make a public presentation on Monday to SSD stakeholders beginning at 5:30 p.m. Following each candidate's presentation, the board will ask the finalists questions submitted by SSD stakeholders. Those in attendance will also have the opportunity to complete an evaluation form on each candidate Monday night following the presentations. 


A reception for the finalists and the Starkville community sponsored by the Starkville Foundation for Public Education, Parents for Public Schools and Parent Teacher Association will immediately follow in the SHS library.




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