Photo by Sue Watson
Circuit clerk Lucy Carpenter administers the oath of office Thursday to Dr. Lela Smith Hale.
Representatives of the Marshall County School District and community traveled to the Mississippi Department of Education offices Monday, Dec. 12, to report on Galena School to state department representatives. Galena is one of the county’s at-risk schools. From left are Terry Cook (board of trustees), Sonya Cross and Lela Hale (central office), Shoanee Garrison (principal, Galena) Heather Todd (fourth grade teacher, Galena) and Leslie King (president, Parent Teacher Organization).
Hale new leader of county schools
Dr. Lela Smith Hale was sworn in Thursday as the last elected superintendent of education for the Marshall County School District.
She is the second known female elected to the position and will be the last, according to circuit clerk Lucy Carpenter.
Hale’s term ends on December 31, 2019, and after that the superintendent will be appointed by the school district board of trustees. As of January 1, 2020, all school district superintendents in Mississippi will be appointed according to a state statute passed in 2016 and signed by the governor.
Hale expressed her gratitude to the community for supporting her candidacy.
“We feel we are all in this together – faculty, staff, administration and community stakeholders,” Hale said. “We plan to bond and move forward together. I feel welcomed by the community and support from those we’ve reached out to.”
Hale said she likes a challenge and believes her election is in God’s plan, and it was a statement she made often during her campaign.
“I just feel like God has a plan and His plan is always the best plan,” she said.
District leaders immediately went to work following the swearing-in ceremony, attending a training session provided by Denotris Jackson, assistant director of the Mississippi School Board Association. The first day on the job was used to prepare a report to present to the state department of education in Jackson Monday. The second day on the job, Hale and central office and district officials joined Galena Elementary School employees and the Parent Teacher Organization in a trip to Jackson to report to the state department and to receive instructions.
“They gave us my role as superintendent and the board’s role in how we plan to work together,” Hale said.
Newly elected school board trustee Bob Barry (District 2) traveled with the group.
Hale praised her team.
“My first real day on the job was working with our team Friday to get a presentation ready,” she said. “I have an awesome district office and administrators who came together to prepare the presentation. The state asked specific questions.”
Hale commended Carrie Skelton, Sonya Cross, Betty Smith and Shoanee Garrison for their eagerness to go to work.
Hale is named after her great-grandmother, Lela McCall Reed. She is a graduate of Blue Mountain College (Class of 1981). Her great-great-grandmother, Sallye Ball McCall, graduated with the BMC Class of 1879. Hale’s middle daughter Brook (a photographer) graduated with the BMC Class of 2007.
Enrollment in the private Baptist-affiliated college is at an all-time high at just over 550.
Hale served as director of clinical experience at BMC for six and a half years where she helped train education majors for teacher certification. She thinks her work in that capacity helped her prepare for her new responsibilities.
“My experience at BMC allowed me to network with numerous K-12 school districts across North Mississippi,” Hale said. “I helped place student teachers in classrooms to do their student teaching and was an observer and evaluator of their performance. I plan to be in the classroom for support.
“It’s exciting for me to see teachers teach and I plan to be there with them to see some of that. I’m compassionate about teaching and learning.”
Hale’s love for school and teachers began in the first grade at Holly Springs Elementary School under Mary Jo Hannah.
“She was kind and provided hands-on learning and taught phonics in the afternoons,” Hale said. “Later on when I worked on my master’s at Delta State University, both of us graduated together. So we reunited after all those years.”
Hale started the first grade in 1966, graduated from Potts Camp High School and earned a master’s at DSU in 1986. She started teaching in 1982 at Drew Public Schools. Her husband Kerry graduated from Northwest Community College around the same time and they moved to Cleveland. He took a job as a draftsman for Cives Steel Company.
Hale said she is a people person.
“I like establishing relationships with people,” she said.
Hale’s brother Ervin helped her campaign. He has bought the old Waterford school building and is restoring it. He plans to live in it when he retires from FedEx. Her brothers, Steve and Barry Smith, were supporters, too, along with her sister-in-law Joyce Whaley and husband David, plus all of their families. Her mother Betty Smith Shaw is a retired food stamp clerk with the Department of Human Services.
The Hales have three daughters.
“We encouraged all of our daughters to get an education as evident in our oldest daughter, Haven, who serves as a middle school guidance counselor and our youngest daughter, Alana, who chose a career as a nurse,” she said.
The other superintendent of education Carpenter remembers who was female was Lucy (Fort) Daniel.
Hale said she received a congratulatory note from Daniel’s daughter who lives in Memphis, Tenn.
Hale’s stated goals for the school district include:
• raising school accountability scores.
• completing a needs assessment for a safe and secure environment in each school building.
• training teachers in best practices and research-based strategies.
• integrating literacy in all subject areas.
• providing a career center and job training for industries.
Hale’s 34-year teaching career has spanned from kindergarten to college. She holds master’s and specialists degrees in curriculum and instruction from Delta State and the University of Mississippi. Her Ph.D., awarded by Ole Miss, focused on educational leadership in K-12. She serves as president of Mississippi Professional Educators, the state teachers’ professional organization.
The Marshall County School District Board of Trustees meets every second Tuesday of the month at 4:30 p.m. at the board of supervisors’ board room on Market Street next door to the county administrator’s office.
Board members are Mark Turner (District 1), Harvey Garrison (District 2), Janice Wagg (District 3), Daniel Ables (District 4) and Terry Cook (District 5). School board attorney is Lori Shaw. Secretary and board clerk is Betty Smith.
Barry (District 2) will take office January 2, 2017. Turner was unopposed in the recent election and will begin a new term in January.