New superintendent sets high standards for school district

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 9, 2003

At 6’4″, the new Lawrence County Superintendent of PublicSchools dwarfs the large desk he sits behind when guests visit hisoffice.

Russell Caudill greets them with a firm, brisk handshake and apleasant smile.

His beliefs are in open view for all to see. A framed anddecorated copy of The Ten Commandments is placed prominently on awall to the left of his desk, and as he sits down a framed “In GodWe Trust” appears on the wall behind him over his rightshoulder.

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A sign perching in plain view serves as a constant reminder toemployees of the purpose of their jobs. “Is what I’m doing, orabout to do, going to improve student achievement?” it asks.

“I set high expectations for our staff and our students,”Caudill said. “And I know we can meet them. Mr. (John) Bull hasleft a good staff here. They’re very efficient, and it’s a pleasureto work with them.”

Caudill won the election for superintendent during the Augustrun off Democratic primary. Superintendent John Bull is retiringafter 12 years in office.

The incoming superintendent ran in a crowded field of qualifiedhopefuls that formed after Bull announced his retirement followingtwo unopposed terms. Caudill said he would not have run againstBull, but when the opportunity came, he thought he was the bestqualified person for the job.

“I felt the number of years and experience I had in the schoolsystem had prepared me for this and I could do a good job,” hesaid. “We have an excellent school system, and I will work hard toimprove it even more.”

That work has already begun, he said. Although Caudill is notofficially the superintendent until after Jan. 1, he has been inthe district’s central office working full-time with Bull for thepast three weeks.

“He’s been a great help,” Caudill said. “He has eased me intothings and made the transition a lot smoother. That really showsthe concern he has for the school district — not to just dump iton a new superintendent, but to help them into their role.”

It is a concern Caudill has witnessed for many years, he said.Caudill has served as the principal at Monticello Elementary Schoolsince 1994.

He was born at Eglin Air Force Base in Ft. Walton, Fla., andraised primarily in the area surrounding the base.

He first came to Mississippi to complete the last two years ofhis Bachelor’s degree at Whitworth College and stayed to get hisMaster’s at William Carey.

It was during his college years that the Florida native met theformer Wanda White of Sontag, now his wife. The couple moved backto Lawrence County after college and Caudill accepted a job atMcCullough Junior High “about 30 years ago.”

He taught there for a few years before taking a job in theWalthall County School District and moving to Tylertown. He keptthat job, teaching and coaching, for 18 years.

“Then I had the opportunity to come back to Lawrence County asan administrator, so we came back,” Caudill said.

He returned to become principal at the elementary school andheld that job until the election.

The district is in excellent shape, he said, but it facesseveral challenges in the next few years.

The district has four Level 4 schools and one Level 3 school,according to state accountability standards.

It is also positioned to move beyond even those exemplary gradesto become a superior system, he said.

“I do believe we have the potential to have Level 5 schools inLawrence County,” Caudill said. “I would like to see more parentinvolvement. I think to improve we’re going to have to see moreparents get involved in their child’s education.”

Parent involvement also includes those parents whose childrenare not yet old enough to attend school, he said.

“One area we have got to continue to address is early childhoodeducation so they are prepared when they enter school,” hesaid.

A district’s faculty is always in flux with teachers moving orretiring, Caudill said, but Lawrence County is about to get hitharder than most in the next few years as senior administratorsconsider retirement. No formal announcements have been made thisyear, but several administrators and teachers have admittedcontemplating retirement, he said.

“Another area of challenge will be in replacing someadministrators and teachers who are going to be retiring thisyear,” he said. “We always want to work hard to find the very bestpeople we can for whatever position we’re hiring for. I want tomaintain a highly qualified staff of teachers with a drive tocontinue to do better.”

Caudill said when he is away from the office he tries to spendas much time as he can with his grandchildren. He has become anavid fisherman and hunter, mainly because “I can do them with mygrandchildren.”

Unfortunately, the change in jobs has prevented him fromenjoying those hobbies this year.

“I haven’t been out much this season,” he said. “I’ve beentrying to do more (in the office). I hope to get out more aroundChristmas.”