Clarksdale Municipal School District superintendent Dr. Earl Joe Nelson received a $4,000 pay raise and three-year contract extension during the board meeting Thursday night.
Nelson came to the CMSD in July 2019 with a three-year contract. His initial contract expires at the end of the 2021-22 school year. The three-year extension means Nelson is under contract through the 2024-25 school year. The $4,000 pay raise increased his salary from $135,000 to $139,000 a year.
The board voted on the contract extension and pay raise by a 4-1 margin after an evaluation of Nelson in executive session. Board members H. Clay Sandy Stillions, Delores Harris, Sherley Fields and Joan Morris supported the measure. Board member Bishop Zedric Clayton opposed.
“It means a lot to me,” Nelson said. “It means a lot to finish the work I came here to do. We have some work to do in the district. We’re going to do some things here that are significant. We are going to leave things behind that our community will see 20, 30 years down the road. We are going to finish. We are going to do some landmark things that are going to be national to bring recognition here to Clarksdale. I’m just so excited about the opportunity to do that for Clarksdale. That’s why I made a decision to come to this district because of this board and their support. It means a lot because we still have work to do.
“I’m excited to serve the students in the Clarksdale Municipal School District. I will keep working my hardest to build things up here, to grow this district, to grow our students for their future.”
The CMSD received a failing grade from the Mississippi Department of Education prior to Nelson’s tenure. The MDE has not issued any accountability grades since Nelson took over due to the COVID pandemic.
Nelson does have his sights set on improving the district academically.
“The first year was just getting to know the staff and seeing who could do what and where,” Nelson said. “I also attacked some instructional things that we needed to move to a level to be an A district, an A mindset. Now, we have those things in place. Now, we are writing programs and we’re writing plans to complement some of the things that we have in place as well as we want the very best staff here. We want to train and retain our staff to stay in our district, to get better on their skills.”
Nelson said some of those skills include math, science and technology.
“Those things we’re very excited about for our kids,” Nelson said. “It’s all about the opportunities for our students and I’m very excited that we’re going to bring some opportunities for students here for a lifetime.”
Nelson said the district has rolled out the literacy program for kindergarten through 12th grade to help close the gap on students being able to read by third grade. He added the district is tracking the numbers.
“We’re looking to turn the corner where we make this a successful district meaning a C,” Nelson said. “That’s the first step in accomplishing an accountability model.
“In 20 years, I want our community to be very proud of what we’ve done to the buildings. I want our community to be very proud of our accountability rating. I want our community, our kids and our parents to be very proud of what they’ve achieved here in that amount of time,” said Nelson. “Because it’s all about the students and we do what’s best for students. It’s important. It’s all about students. Every decision we have to make for the district, we have to make it best for the students.”
Harris named president
Stillions announced he was stepping down as board president, but he will remain on the board. Harris, who was vice president, is the new board president. Fields is the new board vice president and Morris is the secretary.
Harris hopes to continue improving the district as board president.
“We’re all concerned about the success of the children in the schools,” she said. “There are some goals, visions of the superintendent, and we’re going to work with him to make sure that we are as successful as possible.”
Stillions reflected on his time as board president fondly.
“I enjoyed it and I’ve enjoyed the service in that position,” he said. “I’m staying on the board. I look forward to that. I have a lot of obligations professionally. Between my job and leadership positions in my church, I can’t give this (being board president) time. I’ve been learning on her so hard I felt like she’s been doing it anyway and she has.”