May 24, 2018 11:11:10 AM
A former Joe Cook Elementary principal is among the three finalists for Columbus Municipal School District superintendent, board of trustees President Jason Spears confirmed to The Dispatch on Wednesday.
Lois Kappler, who spent 18 years with the district and left the helm at Cook in July 2012, is a project manager for the Research and Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State University. She will join Otha Belcher Jr. and Cherie Labat for public presentations at 6 p.m. May 31 in the Cook Elementary auditorium.
All three candidates will offer five-minute presentations for the public, followed by a question-and-answer session. Spears said members of the public will have the opportunity to submit questions via email for the finalists before the meeting to [email protected]
The board will have another special meeting June 1 to have a final discussion regarding the three finalists. Spears said a superintendent will be chosen and announced shortly after the June 1 meeting.
"We think any one of the three could really do a phenomenal job from day one in addressing issues and making measurable progress with the students and the staff," Spears said.
The new superintendent will replace Philip Hickman who was fired in February. Deputy Superintendent Craig Shannon is serving as interim but did not apply for the permanent post.
Kappler, who would not give her age, began her career in education as an English teacher for Lee Middle School, where she worked for 10 years. She was promoted to assistant principal at Lee Middle for three years and transitioned to the principal's job at Cook Elementary for five years before resigning in 2012.
Her resignation stemmed from an opportunity to pursue her doctorate while working for Mississippi State University's RCU. The opportunity to travel and expand her knowledge of education in Mississippi was another deciding factor for her departure from CMSD, Kappler said.
Kappler, however, still lives in Columbus and felt drawn to apply for the opportunity to lead the district where her teaching career began.
"That's my home, and I still feel very loyal to Columbus City Schools," Kappler said. "I know there's a lot of talent there; I just don't feel it's been supported. I feel it's time to go home and support my community. That's why my hat is in the race."
When she presents on May 31, she hopes to be a familiar face to community members present.
"It would be an honor to be the superintendent at Columbus City Schools," Kappler said.
She earned her bachelor's degree at Mississippi University for Women and completed her student teaching at CMSD.
Otha Belcher Jr.
Belcher, 41, now serves as an assistant superintendent for Jackson Public Schools. Before that, he served as the curriculum director at Warren Central School District in Vicksburg.
He served eight years in the U.S. Army, then began working in education, logging 15 years in the field in Arkansas and Mississippi.
Belcher worked through the ranks to administration, starting as a basketball coach and teacher before moving into assistant principal and principal roles.
He believes if he were to earn the CMSD superintendent post, it would be very similar to the position he currently holds in Jackson. Belcher said he would have high expectations for all departments under his leadership, and he believes his personal story could assist with student morale and success.
"I am the only one in my family to graduate college," Belcher said. "I grew up poor, so to get this far and to get all the education I've gotten and to learn what I've learned, it would be everything to help other people that were just like me."
Labat, 43, is assistant superintendent for Bay-Waveland School District and also teaches part-time at the University of Southern Mississippi. She previously served as principal at Bay-Waveland Middle School from 2006-17, until her promotion to assistant superintendent of curriculum, accreditation and federal programs.
Under her tenure as principal, the middle school received four consecutive B accountability scores from the state, and an A rating in her last year at the helm.
Labat has worked in education for the last 19 years. She views CMSD as a district capable of success.
"It is the truest set-up of a college and career education, not only in the state of Mississippi, but in the nation," Labat said. "The Columbus Municipal School District really has the framework for kids to really work on their college education before they graduate and they are career focused. I just think it's amazing."
During her career, Labat has also served as a coach, teacher and assistant dean. She feels her experience with numerous roles in education would help her in the superintendent position.
"I just don't want to be a superintendent anywhere," Labat said. "I want to be a superintendent for Columbus Municipal School District."
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