FMSD names new superintendent

By JAMES PHILLIPS,

The Forest Municipal School District Board of Trustees made the announcement last week that they have hired a new superintendent to lead the school system. After conducting interviews with seven potential candidates, the school board announced that Dr. Karen Norwood of Biloxi accepted the offer to become the successor of Dr. Joseph White who will retire effective June 30.

The search for a new FMSD superintendent started in February with the assistance of the Mississippi School Boards Association which ultimately produced a list of 32 potential candidates. Members of the school board indicated that the pool of candidates was full of good leaders, but after the interviews the board was unanimous in their decision to offer Dr. Norwood the position.

FMSD Board of Trustees president Trey Rogers said that after the interviews there were some strong candidates but Dr. Norwood really stood out amongst the possible applicants. “We started with 32 potential candidates, and after we finished all the interviews we had some really strong candidates for consideration,” Rogers said. “In the end, out of all the great people we interviewed Dr. Norwood really separated herself from the rest of the group and we voted unanimously to offer her the superintendent role and opportunity to lead our schools here in Forest.”

Norwood said that she was very excited the board believed in her abilities to lead the school district and she cannot wait to get started. “I was absolutely thrilled when I received the call and learned that I was the school board’s choice for superintendent. I can’t wait to get started,” she said. “I had such a good feeling when I left Forest after my interview. I just felt like this is the place I’m supposed to be. I drove up early before my interview and I just spent some time driving around town and visiting with people in the community. Even before I went into the interview, I knew I really liked it here and that Forest was a place I could envision as my new home, and in the end it all came together.” 

Dr. Nowood comes to Forest after having served 12 years as Assistant Superintendent Secondary Programs and Testing for Biloxi Public School District. During that time period Biloxi schools improved from a Mississippi Department of Education “B” rated school district to an “A” rated district, while it has been consistently recognized as one of the top school districts in the state. Norwood credits planning, consistency, hard work, community involvement and creating an enjoyable learning environment for students and teachers for the successes she and her team earned during her tenure at BPSD. She plans to use the same educational blueprint when she officially takes over as FMSD Superintendent on July 1.

Rogers said that due to the high percentage of ELL (English Language Learners) students enrolled in all three Forest schools, Norwood’s work with Biloxi Public Schools, and her experience with the ELL programs was a big factor in her hiring. “Coming from Biloxi schools that are consistently some of the best schools in the state was one big factor that really stood out to the board. The fact that Biloxi School District is an “A” rated school, and knowing that she was a big part of that said a lot,” he said. “Knowing that Dr. Norwood has been a big part of the ELL programs in Biloxi was very appealing to us because we currently have a high percentage of ELL students in our school district. Knowing that she had a lot of experience in ELL and the Mississippi Department of Education’s requirements in these programs was very good and a really big factor in our decision.” 

The candidate pool was full of potentially great superintendents, Rogers said Dr. Norwood really stood out amongst them all in the interview. “During her interview she really separated herself from the other candidates because she was very confident in her abilities, she was concise with her plan and what she would like to do and she is a real team oriented leader,” Rogers said. “She was a big part of the success and excellence of the Biloxi School District but she never took the credit, she praised the individuals that worked with her and the team as a whole. That is the kind of leadership we want heading our schools.”

During her career working in the Mississippi public education system, Norwood has held positions with multiple school districts. She has ascended the educational ladder from counselor to now school district superintendent. During that time she spent time as a counselor at Brandon Elementary School, then principal at Forrest County Agricultural High School in Brooklyn, MS before serving in her role as assistant superintendent. During each of her stops, Norwood has used the same enthusiasm, planning and work ethic when working with parents and students. She believes that education is an all-encompassing community effort and has used that same philosophy in every position she has served.

“Educating our students is a communitywide job that includes everyone at the schools and the local community working together in order to give the students the best possible learning opportunities,” Norwood said. “We will work hard to set and achieve goals as a community and together as a community we will share in enjoying our successes.” 

Dr. Norwood earned her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Mississippi, her Master’s Degree in Counseling and Psychology at the University of Mississippi and her Doctorate in Edcuation (EdD) with a concentration in Educational Leadership and Administration at USM. Additionally, she has completed post doctorate classes with Principals Corp at Harvard University. She has been working towards  this opportunity in her career for many years, and this was the next step. When the superintendent position at Forest became available she said the timing for her “could not have been better.” 

Norwood has two daughters and said that there is nothing more important to her than being a mother. Her daughters were big factors in the timing of her decision to take on this new career challenge. Avery, 17, graduated from Biloxi High School last week, and will be attending the University of Southern Mississippi starting in the Fall. Reagan, 22, is a graduating senior at USM as well as a entrepreneur that manages all facets of her online make-up business. The fact that her youngest daughter was graduating this month played a key role in Norwood taking this step in making her dream of becoming a superintendent a reality.

“I have always been a mom first no questions. Because Avery was a senior this year I started talking to people about possible opportunities and looking for the next step to what I have always wanted to do,” Norwood explained. “I heard about several superintendent positions coming open and I knew after 12 years as an assistant superintendent the time was right to pursue this in my career.”

Both of Norwood’s daughters accompanied her to Forest for her interview, and all three came away with the same feeling that this was a really good fit. “During my interview with the school board I told them that I was looking for my new home,” she said. “With the support of my daughters I knew Forest was a perfect fit for me and that I really liked it here. I grew up in a town very similar to Forest so it just really appealed to me from the moment I arrived. If I would not have been absolutely 100 percent sure I would not have accepted the position.”

Norwood said that after meeting with the school principals it made her even more excited to get started. “I met with the principals and staff last week and the feeling of dedication I got from everyone made me want to get started as soon as possible. I know our team here at FMSD has the complete support of the school board and the local community. We are all going to work together every step of the way,” Norwood said. “I have a structure that has been very successful in the past. We will make sure our focus is in the right areas and that our school curriculum is set accordingly to those areas of focus. I hope to set challenges and goals that we will accomplish together here in Forest.”

Dr. White will take the lead role during the transition period over the next two months. Dr. Norwood will be traveling between Forest and Biloxi as she finalizes moving plans, works on transitioning and meets with school principals and staff in preparation for the beginning of next school year.

Rogers said that the school board firmly believes they found the right leader for the schools. “She will be a strong leader that we expect to come in and evaluate where we are as a school district, determine where we want to be in the future and lead us to those goals.”