June 2, 2018 10:04:37 PM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
Cherie Labat is the new superintendent of the Columbus Municipal School District.
Labat, 43, has served as assistant-superintendent of Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District, which earned a B accountability score in 2017.
CMSD Board of Trustees unanimously selected her a s superintendent at a special-call meeting Friday.
"It was humbling," she said. "... I just can't put it into words. The excitement is still there."
Labat was one of the three finalists for superintendent presented to the community in a public meeting May 31 at Joe Cook Elementary Auditorium. Otha Belcher Jr., assistant superintendent with Jackson Public Schools, and Lois Kappler, former Joe Cook principal and current project manager with Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit, were the other two finalists for the position.
At the close of Thursday's meeting, the audience voted for the candidate they felt could best serve the district. School board members reviewed those votes at Friday's meeting.
CMSD board president Jason Spears said Labat received the highest number of votes from the public with 68, followed by Kappler with 43 and Belcher with 34.
The community input was not the deciding factor, but helped solidify the board's decision before taking a vote, Spears said.
"Everybody had a voice in this process along the way," he said.
During Friday's meeting, the board interviewed each candidate in executive session, with Labat's interview lasting about twice as long as the other two. After each candidate's final interview, the board continued the executive session to further discuss each candidate. After about six hours, Spears announced the unanimous decision in regular session.
Spears said the discussion by the board was thorough and deliberate. The board reviewed each candidate's information and interviews for nearly four hours before returning to regular session with the superintendent decision.
Spears said the board members ultimately felt Labat was the best fit for the district's needs.
"I believe that she'll be able to work with all parts of the community (including) external stakeholders, whether it be retirees, whether it be business and industry," Spears said. "Because she's already doing that at her current position."
Labat intends to "hit the ground running" when she attends the board's regular meeting on June 11. The first few months within the district are critically important, she said.
"The first thing I'm going do is meet with the employees and get their feedback about where we are and discuss some initiatives and what we need to do to move forward," she said. "I think that's the most important part of my first 90 days."
She also intends to spend her first few months evaluating and addressing current policies and situations within the district to ensure CMSD is ready for the 2018-2019 school year.
"I also want to meet with the business manager and make sure that we are fiscally sound, make sure that we have employees in place for August 1," Labat added. "I want to make sure that our facilities are safe and evaluate the infrastructure facilities. I also want to work with the teachers and leadership teams about creating curriculum initiatives and goals for the district that are detailed and nailed down to subject area and assessment.
"The city of Columbus should be excited, because we're getting ready to go places together," she added.
Labat's starting salary will be $150,000. She will be the district's fourth superintendent since 2010.
She will start in mid-June, replacing Philip Hickman, who the board fired in February. In November, the board elected not to renew Hickman's contract, which expired June 30, and began the search for a new superintendent. Deputy Superintendent Craig Shannon served as interim superintendent during the search.
Labat earned her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Southern Mississippi, where she teaches part-time. She has experience as a teacher, coach, middle school reading coordinator, adjunct professor, assistant dean, career and technical director, assistant principal and principal.
She has been published in educational journals and presented research on school safety and gun culture at state, regional, national and international conferences. She recently co-authored a book chapter on gun violence in public schools in the Wiley Handbook of Educational Policy.
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.
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