2 Columbus-area principals moving up in leadership, 1 to another local district

MCSD board debates whether to hire recommended special-education director

Superintendent David Lewis recommended JoAnn Redden from Hillsborough County, Fla., and the Muscogee County School Board hired her despite objections during Monday night's meeting.
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Superintendent David Lewis recommended JoAnn Redden from Hillsborough County, Fla., and the Muscogee County School Board hired her despite objections during Monday night's meeting.

Two principals in the Columbus area are on their way to leaving their positions for higher-level jobs in the administration of local school districts.

Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis told the school board he will recommend Fort Middle School principal Sonja Coaxum to be MCSD’s executive director of special education. The board is expected to vote on the recommendation June 10.

Russell County High School principal Shelia Baker has been hired for a newly created position in the Harris County School District — assistant superintendent for support services.

Lewis hasn’t recommended a successor to Coaxum at Fort yet. RCHS assistant principal Michael Kilpatrick was promoted to replace Baker as principal, Russell County superintendent Brenda Coley announced in an email to the staff.

Jeanella Pendleton, retired principal of Reese Road Leadership Academy, has been MCSD’s interim special-education director since JoAnn Redden left the position in January 2019 after being hired in December 2017. She resigned “for personal reasons related to family health obligations,” Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer.

Pendleton also filled in after Redden’s predecessor, Mary Lewis, resigned in August 2017 to return to teaching.

“This was Ms. Coaxum’s first time applying for this position,” Lewis wrote in an email to the L-E. “Her previous experience as a Special Education teacher, success as a principal in our district, and the results of her interview all led to her being the unanimous choice for the position by the interview panel and my subsequent recommendation to the Board.”

The Harris County School Board approved superintendent Roger Couch’s recommendation to create the new position of assistant superintendent for support services to address the mental and physical needs of students, according to the school district’s news release.

In that position, Baker will lead the planning, implementing and assessing of the district’s federal, counseling, social work, nutrition and psychological services program. She also will be a liaison to student information services.

“For our students to learn in the classroom, they need to be fed, they need to feel safe, and they need to know they have people who care,” Couch said in the district’s news release. “We have made great strides in the last year with opening The HOPE Center. Adding this position and bringing in someone with leadership skills like Shelia Baker will help all of our students be better able to find success in the classroom and in the future.”

The HOPE Center is an acronym for Helping Our People Excel, which helps students and their families with health care, housing, utilities, combating abuse and chronic absenteeism, plus a clothing bank and food bank.

“I am deeply honored and grateful to Mr. Couch and the Harris County School District Board members for affording me this wonderful opportunity,” Baker said in the news release. “I am looking forward to becoming a Harris County Tiger and joining a team of outstanding educators who have an established, proven reputation of effectively educating students and striving for excellence.”

Baker will start her new job July 1, giving HCSD four assistant superintendents. The Georgia Department of Education allots school systems with 5,000 or more students positions for four assistant superintendents, HCSD spokeswoman Rachel Crumbley told the Ledger-Enquirer. “State funding provides money for a portion of the salary,” she said. “The local budget matches $50,000 of state funding.”

Coley wasn’t reached for comment before this story’s deadline.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.