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by Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal

OKOLONA – After almost three years, Okolona now has a school board and trustees that will direct local schools.

The Okolona Mayor and Board of Aldermen named five people to the school board at their meeting last week.

The five Okolona School Board Trustees and background are:

• Sara L. Jenkins – Retired school counselor.

• Dr. Jerome D. Smith – Retired school administrator.

• William “Bill” Stewart – Retired industrialist.

• William E. Bailey – Businessman.

• Nancy Sullivan – Educator.

All new trustees are longtime residents of Okolona.

“I grew up in Okolona and was heartbroken when the emergency occurred,” said Okolona Mayor Louise Cole, about the state’s takeover of Okolona schools in February 2010. “We have to move back to a community dedicated to quality education.”

Cole presented the Okolona Board of Aldermen with a list of potential school board trustees at last week’s meeting. The motion to approve the five trustees was made by Ward 1 Alderman Kenneth McVey and seconded by Ward 4 Alderman Imogene Armstrong. There was no discussion and the list was unanimously approved by aldermen.

“No one on this board went out trying to get these positions,” said Trustee Stewart. “We were approached and asked if we would serve.

“My background is in industry and business and we are a diverse group,” said Stewart. “This is a good mix and each of us brings something different to the board.”

Cole said the board’s first order of business will be to decide how to stagger school board positions over a four year span. Okolona has two elected school board posts and three are appointed by the city.

Cole said the board will also establish regular meeting times, board policy and begin the work of hiring a new superintendent.

The Okolona Municipal School District was placed under state control 32-months ago due to academic and financial failures. At that point the school board was dissolved and the superintendents’ post saw Dr. Mike Vinson installed as conservator.

After two years of work the State Board of Education voted in June to allow Okolona schools out from under conservatorship. Vinson retired and the state appointed Dr. Mac Curlee and Dr. James Malone to Smith to direct the schools until a school board was named and a superintendent hired.

The state said prior to naming the new school board that no former school board members could be reappointed. Okolona City Attorney Gene Barton said Stewart had not been officially seated to the school board when schools were taken over by the state in 2010.

State officials have repeatedly said should Okolona schools revert to conservatorship, the district will be abolished or split up and merged with other districts or consolidated with area districts.

Okolona schools have seen dramatic improvements since the district was taken over by the state in February 2010.

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