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3 candidates vying for CMSD board spot


From left, Yvonne Cox, June B. Leigh and James. E. Samuel Sr.

From left, Yvonne Cox, June B. Leigh and James. E. Samuel Sr.



Zack Plair



Three applicants had filed paperwork with the city as of Thursday to replace Angela Verdell on the Columbus Municipal School District board of trustees. 


Education consultant Yvonne Cox, retired educator June B. Leigh and local associate pastor James. E. Samuel Sr. have applied for the five-year board appointment. 


Both Cox and Samuel have unsuccessfully applied for previous CMSD board appointments. 


Columbus City Council can appoint someone during its next meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. Feb. 20. City officials are asking for applicants to file paperwork by Wednesday but indicated they would accept applications until the next council meeting begins. 


Applicants must be registered voters who reside in CMSD's territory. 


Verdell, first appointed in 2013 and served as board president from 2014-17, decided not to apply for a second term. 


The new board member will help lead a district with a D accountability rating from the state. He or she also will assist in the search for a new superintendent, after the current board opted late last year not to renew Philip Hickman's contract past its June 30 expiration. 




Yvonne Cox 


Cox, who would not disclose her age to The Dispatch other than to say she is "mature," is an independent education consultant who once taught special education and served as assistant director of special programs at CMSD. She's also served as director of special services with West Point Consolidated School District. 


She said CMSD needs to improve its "culture and climate" by developing more community partners and building better relationships with parents. 


Cox also supports better identifying CMSD's challenges through stakeholder surveys (to parents, teachers, students and others), then prioritizing those challenges for improvement. 


A new superintendent, she said, needs to set roots in Columbus, and the board and superintendent need to "work as a team." 


"A community needs a superintendent they love and respect," Cox said. "The person needs to be able to effectively communicate (his or her) goals and objectives to the community." 


Cox said she has lived in Columbus for more than 25 years. She holds a bachelor's degree in special education from Jackson State University and a master's from Mississippi State. 




June B. Leigh 


Leigh, 57, has 34 years of experience in education -- 14 as a teacher and 20 as an administrator. 


Her career started with as a teacher in Louisiana before she moved to New Hope and taught for about 10 years. From there, she served stints as assistant principal at Overstreet and Sudduth Elementary in Starkville, then the same position at Columbus High. 


Leigh finished her career with the Aberdeen School District, where she worked as curriculum and instruction, assessment and professional development director. 


"I want to serve on the school board because education is the thing I know best," Leigh told The Dispatch. "Plus, since I'm retired, I'm in a very gracious, caring and understanding place personally. It looks like that is needed in the district." 


Other challenges facing CMSD, she said, are building better communication and accountability. That starts with the board, she added, but it also extends to a new superintendent whom she hopes will be responsible and personable. 


"I would be just one vote, but I would be looking for someone (as superintendent) who can hit the ground running, who understands the accountability model and someone who can lead," Leigh said. "The community is ready. Some of the board members have demonstrated they are ready." 


Leigh holds a bachelor's and master's degrees from Mississippi State, as well as a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. 




James E. Samuel Sr. 


Samuel, 68, is a 1970 Hunt High School graduate with 22 years pastoral experience. He now serves as associate pastor with a local Baptist church, he said. 


He also served 12 years in the Air Force and ran twice unsuccessfully for a spot in the Mississippi House of Representatives. 


Samuel told The Dispatch he sees Columbus as "a city in rapid decline" and it starts with a flagging school district. 


"We've allowed the schools to degrade to where our children are not interested and the parents do not motivate them," he said. "It appears the teachers are only there to collect a paycheck, and every superintendent we have had recently has only been there looking for their next big paycheck." 


To start fixing that, he said board members, administrators and teachers had to adapt to the changing learning environment and seek access to successful programs who have raised achievement -- especially in impoverished areas -- around the country. 


In searching for a new superintendent, he said he supports a candidate who is community minded and accessible. 


"We need someone who is open to meeting with anyone who comes across (his or her) desk," he said.


Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.



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