Clarksdale Municipal School District Superintendent Dr. Earl Joe Nelson is one of 19 public school leaders to be named to new Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s administrator advisory council.
“I’m very excited to be able to bring some input to the table, some ideas to the table,” Nelson said. “I’m also very excited to implement some things that may become policy to support our schools and support our students.”
Dr. Carey Wright, State Superintendent of Education for Mississippi, appointed Nelson to the Mississippi Department of Education advisory board in the past. He has served on other advisory boards, but working with the lieutenant governor is the first time he could have a direct impact on legislation.
“It’s quite an honor to be able to do that for our students and for our schools,” Nelson said.
Hosemann praised Nelson’s efforts to lower chronic absenteeism.
“Our goal was to make this administrator council as broad-based as possible so we can receive wide-ranging feedback to make policy as meaningful and relevant to educators on the front lines as possible,” Hosemann said. “We received recommendations to the council from many education organizations across the state, and Dr. Nelson was among those recommended. We are looking forward to learning from him about his work on chronic absenteeism and other issues facing public schools across the state.”
Nelson became CMSD’s superintendent in July 2019 after several years as an administrator in the Pass Christian School District. He put together a chronic absenteeism team that has received training through the Mississippi Department of Education.
The chronic absenteeism team is going into the schools, training other administrators and teachers on ways to make a difference.
“Of course, we’re working very closely with our truancy officers in the area to ensure we’re doing what’s right to help students better achieve their goals of success,” Nelson said. “We also have a social worker (Kim Reeves) for our district that’s making home visits as we’re looking at the data daily to track students that are chronically absent.
“Sometimes, chronic absenteeism could be a number of things in the home,” he added. “It could be health issues. It could be mental health issues. We just want to get to what those barriers are to make a difference for our students here in Clarksdale.”
Nelson said specific situations are being addressed as they arise, but the schools have mental health support and counselors. Mississippi Tier Support System coordinator Denise Calhoun is also helping with truancy.
Nelson said he is looking forward to hearing from the other educators on the board and throughout the state. Teacher pay is a statewide issue he feels the council should address.
“We’re still looking at bringing teacher pay up to a national average, to a regional average,” Nelson said. “That’s going to be important this legislative term. We have to constantly look at how we’re able to compete with other states. Also, we want to keep educators in Mississippi that are coming out of these educational programs. Of course, we have a teacher shortage here in the Delta area. Those pay raises could be vital to that shortage.”
Nelson said he want to reward teachers for their calling.
“The level of commitment for education is a little different,” Nelson said. “The mindset for education is a little different. One of the biggest things we have to do hear is improve the structure in our systems to really grow in the Mississippi Delta and to grow our school systems here to benefit our students. A part of that is changing the culture and the climate that success at a high level can happen here. But we have to have a successful staff. We have to have successful support. We have to have a successful system. That’s what we’re working very hard to do here. And not just here; I am sure superintendents all over Mississippi are doing the same thing.”
Nelson said he is looking for more certified math, English and science teachers and administrators who want to grow and build a successful school system.
“We’ve got to have the best people in our system,” Nelson said. “We’ve got to have people that are going to do what’s best for our students. We’re going to have to have a staff that is going to advocate for student success. Student success, it’s not easy. It takes work. We’re working very hard to close the literacy gaps we have here.”
Nelson said when he became superintendent, 60 to 70 percent of the students were reading one or two grade levels behind. He hopes to close the gap by at least half.
He did say some incentives CMSD provides include a $5,000 bonus for teachers with a five-year license and a $1,000 relocation check. The district also pays for teacher and teacher assistants to go to school and earn advanced degrees.
“We want the very best going for our students because our students deserve the very best,” Nelson said.