Dr. Earl Joe Nelson was unanimously selected to be the new Clarksdale Municipal School District Superintendent Wednesday, July 3, and has hit the ground running.
Nelson, a 26-year education veteran, comes from the Pass Christian School District and succeeds Dennis Dupree, who was in the position for 12 years. He worked from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. his first day on the job Monday.
Nelson said one of his top goals is to improve the district’s grade with the Mississippi Department of Education, which was an “F” last year, and to find educators to help him meet his goals.
Nelson said everyone on the school board made him feel he could move the CMSD forward. “Clarksdale has a rich history and heritage,” he said. “A part of that rich history and heritage is education and so I want to rebuild that structure back where the citizens in Clarksdale and our community are very proud of the educational process that we will be making here in the Clarksdale Municipal School District.”
Kirkpatrick Health & Medical Science Magnet Elementary School did receive an “A” from the MDE and Nelson plans to look at how it has succeeded.
“We have an ‘A’ elementary school,” he said. “I’m very proud to say that they’re moving and they’re retaining. We’re working very hard to build everything else up for people that want to be in our school district. I’m going to be embedded in that work to attract people to our district, but also to attract industry in our district.”
Nelson spent more than 13 years at Pass Christian Middle School, but he does have ties to the Delta, as he was born in Cleveland. His father, Earl Joe Nelson Sr., is originally from Cleveland
Nelson graduated from Hinds Agricultural High School in Utica in 1985, Hinds Community College in 1987 with a degree in drafting, Jackson State University with a degree in industrial technology in 1990 and earned his master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in educational leadership in 2005 and is on track to earn a Ph.D. from Southern Miss in 2019.
His career started as a technology teacher in Biloxi in 1993 where he also coached high school basketball and junior high football. His father was a college basketball coach and he wanted to follow in his footsteps.
Nelson said his father also wanted to be an administrator, but did not have the opportunity.
Now, Nelson has the opportunity and his path started when former Pass Christian superintendent, the late Dr. Sue Ann Matheson, was his instructor at Southern Miss and told him he had potential.
He was hired as a lead teacher at Pass Christian in 2004, then was an AP instructor for less than a year and became principal of the middle school before moving to the CMSD.
Nelson received additional training through the Mississippi School Boards Association Prospective Superintendent Leadership Academy. The leadership academy a professional development program designed to prepare potential candidates for the position of superintendent in Mississippi public schools.
“Being in a small district, I’ve had to do things from a principal’s seat that most assistant superintendents do or most federal program directors do,” Nelson said. “Because we were a small district with resources and funds, we had to think outside the box. Those are the kind of concepts that I’m going to bring here to Clarksdale.”
The CMSD board worked in conjunction with the MSBA throughout the search to find a new superintendent.
CMSD board president H. Clay Stillions said there were a number of highly qualified applicants for the position.
“Our board was unanimous in our decision that Dr. Nelson is the right choice to lead and advance our district for the betterment of our students, faculty and staff, as well as our community,” Stillions said. “This selection involved many hours of research and background searches to help determine which candidates were the best possible fit for our district.
“We are excited to welcome Dr. Nelson to our community,” Stillions added, “and look forward to working within to improve the quality of education in our district.”
Pass Christian was an “A” school district and Nelson was named the 2018 administrator of the year.
Nelson said the key to his success was recruiting teachers from all over the country. He plans to do the same thing in Clarksdale and also look to hire teachers from Universities and the district’s career technical education program.
He noted finding teachers from other states should not be a problem as most licenses are transferrable to Mississippi.
“Going into the following year (2020-21), we’re going to be strong in bringing in people because I’m going to be looking at people in other systems, looking at people from the coast, looking at people from other states to build our school system up here,” Nelson said.
“Starting with the accountability system that I’m inheriting, I’m going to be looking for the best possible staff for our student,” he added. “I believe in having the best team so I can have the best for our students. Yes, I am going to be recruiting all over to assure that I can bring the best here for our students.”
Nelson also hopes to improve the teacher retention rate and does not believe he will have a problem convincing educators to move to Clarksdale.
“I would say to them that the Delta is an untapped area for them to have an opportunity to have an education to grow students and do some things to bring economic development here,” he said. “It’s very rich in heritage in the history of music for the Delta.
“It has a lot of opportunities for individuals to grow professionally here,” he said. “This is a place that educators or people can move and grow as a profession.”
Nelson’s goal is to improve the CMSD’s grade with the department of education to at least a “C” after the following school year and then an “A” in the near future.
He said he has a superintendent’s entry plan for his first 30 days that includes meeting with all employees before school starts Aug. 12.
The community did vote for an $8.5 million bond in 2017 to improve facilities in the district. A new football field on the high school campus is being constructed and expected to be ready for the 2020 season.
“I’m very thankful here that the citizens passed an $8.5 million bond I understand it to be and I want to make sure that all of our facilities are updated with that,” Nelson said. “That’s a priority. I’m realizing after my first day here that we have to prioritize the things that we need necessary for our students to be successful. Everything is not going to be the top of the priority, but I would like to see all our facilities be updated and upgraded for our students.”