June 20, 2012 9:49:04 AM
The city schools finally have a new superintendent, but with the fall semester only a month and a half away, the administrative shuffle continues as the Columbus Municipal School District seeks to fill three, possibly four, key vacancies.
Lois Kappler, principal of Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School, confirmed Tuesday she has resigned after 18 years with the city schools, making her the third principal to leave the district this year.
Columbus High School Principal Scott Hallmark accepted a position last month as principal of North Pike High School in Summit after learning his contract would not be renewed as part of a district-wide personnel reduction, and Columbus Middle School Principal Cindy Wamble retired last month from a 24-year career with the district to take the helm as principal of Heritage Elementary.
Kappler will be at Cook through the end of the month before beginning her new position July 16 as project manager of Mississippi State University's Research and Curriculum Unit.
Cook Vice Principal Kimberly Gardner has also purportedly accepted a principal's position with the Durant School District in Holmes County, but that has not been confirmed. Kappler said the district has approached Gardner about a position, but she is unaware of any decisions that have been made, and Gardner has not filed a resignation.
'Not an easy decision'
Leaving is bittersweet for Kappler, as well as for the teachers and parents with whom she worked.
She began her career as a student teacher at Cook, then taught eighth grade English at Cook for two years before serving as a teacher and, later, assistant principal at Lee Middle School.
Five years ago, Kappler returned as principal of Cook. When she arrived, enrollment hovered at 525. Now, 875 students attend Cook, many whom are the children of Kappler's former pupils.
"I've really built a community here, and it was not an easy decision to leave, because of that," she said Tuesday.
It's somehow fitting for her to come full circle, beginning and ending at the school she has loved, Kappler said, but her new job will afford her more time to spend with her husband, Jerry, and her two grandchildren.
"With a school of this size, you put a lot of time and energy into it." Kappler said. "It's just a never-ending job. I work six days a week, 12 hours or more a day. I couldn't do anything less here. This has been my best job ever."
She'll miss the children most, especially watching them walk through the doors as timid kindergartners and leave as strong fifth-graders.
"There can't be anyone in Columbus who gets more hugs per day than I do," she said. "You're with them all those formative years. I realize I touch a lot of people, and I tried to be a positive role model, in good times and bad."
That positive spirit and devotion to teamwork made Kappler a favorite among her colleagues, said Dixie Belue, who retired in May after teaching kindergarten at Cook for 17 years.
She had considered retiring sooner, but when Kappler arrived on campus, she decided to stay.
"She was so easy to work with," Belue said. "You didn't mind going to her and asking questions. She was so open and so positive. In any bad situation, she could find the good. I loved Mrs. Kappler so much."
'We just need some
Parents appreciated Kappler as well, said Cindy Buob, who has a child at Cook and another entering Columbus Middle School this fall. The high-profile departures within the district are a concern, she admitted.
"It makes you feel like everyone's leaving," she said. "I think there's a significant worry among parents about why so many people are leaving and a concern that those people be replaced with quality people so our children can continue to have a positive experience."
Though no replacements have been named for the three vacancies, many parents say they hope the positions are filled quickly.
"With all this upheaval, we just need some security," Buob said.
The district will begin accepting applications this week for Kappler's replacement, Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell said Tuesday afternoon.
"I can tell you that Mrs. Kappler is an outstanding administrator, and we will deeply miss her enthusiasm in the school district," Liddell said. "She has led the Fine Arts program to world class status."
The CMSD board of trustees will hold a special meeting to discuss salary scales and personnel Thursday at 7:30 a.m. at Brandon Central Services.
They have not confirmed whether any announcements will be made regarding the principal vacancies.
Carmen K. Sisson is news editor at The Dispatch.
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