Charlotte Seals
Charlotte Seals
Superintendent Charlotte Seals has a plan to keep Madison County Schools headed in the right direction, and she’ll soon get a chance to implement it.

Seals moved into her new post in early April, and has spent the ensuing 15 weeks trying to prepare for the upcoming school year, which begins in just a few weeks. Taking over the helm at Mississippi’s fourth-largest school district is daunting enough, but Seals has the added pressure of taking over the state’s largest A-rated school as well.

“I’ve been fortunate to see the growth of the district,” Seals said. “It’s a humbling opportunity. I had an opportunity from the ground up to help in my small way to grow the district. I know the family, I know the principals and the teachers and I try to lead with a team mentality.”

Seals likes to break down the district’s needs into two categories — physical needs and intangibles. Among her big-ticket items are new construction to relieve space issues within the Ridgeland and Germantown zones, beefing up security for students and teachers at all 23 schools and expanding the 1:1 program that puts a computer in the hands of each student.

Specifically, Seals alluded to construction needs at Ann Smith Elementary and Highland Elementary in Ridgeland, and said she has a plan to get students at Germantown Middle School and Germantown High School out of temporary classrooms.

“All of those schools have some classes in portables and some more than others,” Seals said. “It’s important that we address those space needs there so that we don’t wake up 15 years from now and have a real problem on our hands.”

Madison County School’s in-house demographer has already projected continued growth for Madison County through 2028, and the next study — set for later this year — will project even further into the future.

The district has hired one security specialist and recently added an assistant to review safety policy and improve security at the main entrances to schools. In addition, the district now has at least one literacy specialist at each of its 23 schools, with several having more. There are also nine math specialists, but Seals said the goal going forward is employing at least one per school, just like the literacy coaches.

The lap-top computers the district provides to teachers have all been refurbished this summer, and Seals said she’s hoping to add more Chromebooks to middle school classrooms for student use. 

Most of these changes are accounted for in the current year’s fiscal budget or already underway, but the big-ticket items like new construction are likely to require the county to pass a bond issue.

“That’s certainly a decision the board will make,” Seals said. “We’ll look at our current financial situation and see what that entails. We always want to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars, and so, again, we’ve tried to plan purposefully so if and when we have to go out for a bond issue, we will have used all of our possible existing funding first.”

The other aspects of the school district Seals wants to cultivate don’t cost money — just time and effort. Establishing what Seals refers to as a “culture of excellence” isn’t just about good test results or graduation rates for the students. It’s also about establishing a work environment that will attract the most talented and effective teachers in the state to come to Madison County.

“I like to tell people that the most important people in our schools are our kiddos and their parents,” Seals said. “The most valuable are our teachers and the most crucial are our principals.”

To that end, Seals plans to ensure Madison County Schools keeps its average teacher pay above median level for Mississippi and make sure the faculty and staff feel like they have ownership in the success of the district.

“As superintendent, I want to be a part of it, but I also know that it’s not about me,” Seals said. “Really, it’s about inspiring and motivating our family, our team and establishing the best work culture possible so that we can work together.”

It’s an ambitious agenda, but after a relatively chaotic 2019 - at least at the administrative level - it could be just what Madison County Schools needs.

With the sudden departure of former superintendent Kimber Halliburton after just nine months on the job, the school board had a decision to make. They could hire another outsider like Halliburton, whose first job in Madison County was as the school superintendent, or they could promote someone from within.

Seals personified the latter. Having worked in Madison County Schools since 1989 and advanced from a biology teacher all the way to the administration over the last 31 years has put her in a position to hit the ground running. She was named superintendent in early April, and has spent the last three and a half months preparing for the upcoming school year.

“It’s not ideal,” Seals said. “But no complaints here. We’ve got a great staff which is more like a family, and everyone is super, super committed to doing whatever they can to help the students. In that sense, things have gone smoothly.”

Her background also gives her a unique perspective on district-wide policies and the decisions of the school board and how they can effect students and teachers in the classroom.

“I have had the opportunity to help hire many of our principals,” Seals said. “It all starts with the interview process. That’s where you can get them to understand the value system we have and what we expect. 

“If you’re going to have that family/team mentality, you have to model it that way from the start.”