HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg Public School Board of Trustees is explaining its options for finding a new superintendent and putting support behind its interim in the meantime.
The school board voted unanimously Thursday to extend a contract to N.R. Burger Middle School principal Robert Williams to serve as interim superintendent through Dec. 2016.
"It's a great opportunity to make sure we are moving to make sure all of our students are set up for academic success," Williams said. "It's very important that we are prepared for our students as we receive them in August."
HPSD Board of Trustees President Marcus Cathey said he sees three options for finding a superintendent.
"There are three decisions that we have," Cathey said. "One, we can either just regroup and start the search all over again. Second, we can just go back to the pool of 31 candidates that have already applied or we can just move forward with Dr. Williams as serving as the permanent superintendent. What route we will take hasn't been determined."
Mike Waldrop, executive director of the Mississippi School Boards Association (MSBA), who helped Hattiesburg in its search for superintendent initially, said Thursday MSBA offered to reopen the search at no additional cost to the district, but said he didn't know how the district was planning to move forward.
School starts on Aug. 4, 2016, and Cathey said, right now, the board is focused on acclimating Williams, not searching for a permanent superintendent.
"Right now, we're putting all our support behind Dr. Williams and getting school started and leading the district," Cathey said. "We have not made any decisions on when we'll make the next move. We don't have a timeline yet. That is discussion that the board will be having soon, but our energies now is just to give full support to Dr. Williams as the interim superintendent."
Williams said, "(School is) less than a month away. So we're prepared. We have a plan. We have great staff. We have great students. We have models of excellence within our district, and we just look forward to the opportunity to move forward to ensure academic success."
Williams said he has four goals in his new role.
"One goal being making sure that I'm building a collaborative relationship with the school board," he said. "Secondly, we're going to continue with fiscal responsibility, making sure that we are being good stewards of public funds. Thirdly, we're going to sure that we have academic instruction, a system in place in place for student success. Then finally, actually making sure we do set students up for success upon arrival."
Williams appointment comes after Janice Johnson resigned from the superintendent job on her first day in office. Cathey said her resignation came as a shock to the board.
"Oh absolutely, absolutely (it was a shock)," Cathey said. "We found out Friday when it was given. We went through a long vetting process, so when we found out Friday, it was a big shock to the board. So absolutely. We were extremely transparent with all of the candidates, but we can't determine what another person does. But yeah. We were shocked."
Cathey said he didn't have any insight into why Johnson resigned so quickly, only the personal and family reasons she gave to the board.
Waldrop said he's never seen a superintendent resign on the first day in office. He said he's seen candidates accept a job and resign before their start date, but said this is the first time he knows of someone starting a job and resigning on the same day.
Williams said he understands the district because he's been in its classrooms for years.
"I've been on the ground in Hattiesburg," he said. "I actually started as a student teacher at N.R. Burger Middle School in 1999. So a student teacher, teacher, athletics, coaching as well as a principal and now interim superintendent."
Cathey said Williams was one of the 31 candidates in the district's original superintendent search.