HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg Public School District has a new superintendent.
The Hattiesburg Public Schools Board of Trustees announced Wednesday Janice Johnson will be the district's new leader.
"It's very exciting," Johnson said. "It was very thorough. I've gone through interviews before, and I've even gone through a community interview prior. But to get to the end and be offered the position and have the opportunity to say yes is just, it's exhilarating."
Johnson has worked as the assistant superintendent for Biloxi Public Schools since 2012 and has worked in education for 22 years.
"We are extremely excited about the job that Dr. Janice Johnson is going to do for the Hattiesburg Public School District," said board member Carey Varnado. "From the very beginning of the interview process, there was really unanimity on the board about the fact that Dr. Johnson really presented the best credentials in terms of the academic progress that students had made in schools where she was principal, and in the district, Biloxi, where she's been the assistant superintendent."
Marcus Cathey, HPSD board president, said in a statement, "The selection process was a long and thorough one, which included vetting a large pool of candidates and gathering a variety of community input and feedback. We are confident that Dr. Johnson ultimately is the best fit for the needs of HPSD, our students and staff."
Johnson said, "It's going to take getting the community involved and determine: what are the needs? What are the needs of our children? What are the needs of our families? And how do we make this happen together? Because if we promote student growth and we graduate great students, then those are stronger students that will go to our universities or go into the workforce. Then, of course, if we strengthen our economy, then that's more money in our school system. So it's a cyclical win-win process for everybody."
Johnson released the following state after the announcement, list three major factors she plans to focus on:
The district said it planned to candidly brief all of the superintendent candidates during the interview on the struggles facing the district, especially surrounding budget and financial management. Johnson said she appreciates the board giving her that information, thinks the district has a feasible financial plan in place and said she isn't concerned about its financial future.
"I did have an opportunity to sit and discuss candidly concerns, issues with the board, and they were very transparent to the point where I know this is something that can be done," Johnson said. "There are no major concerns from me in terms of the financial management of it. They worked hard to take care of that already, and there's a budget that's been proposed that will work. It's just a matter of making sure you spend what is in the budget and plan for the budget."
Varnado said it's the work of the district's Interim Superintendent Greg Ladner and Interim Chief Financial Officer Sheryle Coaker to create a workable budget for the 2016-17 school year that allows Johnson to step in without major concerns.
"We're very indebted to Dr. Greg Ladner and Sheryle Coaker for what they have done in terms of cutting costs and improving the educational make up of the school system," he said. "They've both done an excellent job. Ms. Coaker has agreed to stay on for another six months as interim chief financial officer, which will be wonderful in terms of orienting Dr. Johnson to where we've been and where we need to go. Dr. Ladner has agreed that he will be available just for consultation and discussion with Dr. Johnson, which will also be excellent in terms of getting her oriented."
Johnson said because she's confident there is a solid financial plan in place, she wants to focus on the district's academic performance and leadership.
"For the curricular side, for instruction, I feel that's where we have to have our main focus because we have the fiscal management side in place," she said. "That's just a matter of following that road map. However, now, once we we do get school rolling, we want to make sure we have the right people in the right place, so we're looking at personnel. Because of the cuts, who's left? What are their capabilities? That's something that the school board is leaving up to me to kind of assemble the right team, have the right people in the right place, so we can move forward and open school August 4 strong. I, of course, will meet with district staff and principals and then teachers to make sure we're all on the path. Our focus is student achievement and spending within the budget. That's what we must do this school year."
This will will Johnson's first superintendent job, but she said she's seen what's needed in a superintendent first hand.
"I've worked closely with my superintendent as the assistant superintendent that I feel I've been exposed to just about every facet of the procedures of the work that has to be done," Johnson said.
Varnado said, "She doesn't have the experience as a superintendent, but she will make up for that very quickly. She is a very strong personality, and we are really delighted about having her here in Hattiesburg."
Cathey said he is happy with the board's choice.
"I am excited to have her lead our district," he said. "She was a strong candidate with a proven track record of accomplishment in district leadership and student achievement. We appreciate all of the input, comments, feedback, and interest that the community has provided throughout this process. I hope the community will continue that support for Dr. Johnson as she begins her work here in Hattiesburg."
Johnson has a Bachelor of Science in elementary education and teaching from Alcorn State University, a master's in elementary education and teaching from William Carey University and a specialist and doctorate from The University of Southern Mississippi.
"Her extensive knowledge and wealth of experience in multiple areas of administration along with her innovative leadership abilities make her an excellent choice to lead HPSD," Cathey said.
"My goal, my focus is always about the students, and in order to support students, I have to be involved with teachers, principals, parents," Johnson said. "It takes the whole team. it's not about me coming in and doing. It's a team effort."