Jackson County

Jackson County School Board votes to replace longtime superintendent

The Jackson County School Board voted for a new superintendent Monday night despite an application from longtime Superintendent Barry Amacker.

This year is the first year school boards in Mississippi are charged with appointing a school superintendent. In the past, voters elected school superintendents.

All four board members at Monday’s meeting voted to hire John Strycker, who is superintendent of schools in Butler County, Alabama, and former superintendent in Michigan.

“When I saw Jackson County, you don’t have to do much research to see it’s an outstanding school system,” Strycker said. “Once I took a look and we visited the community it is a place you want to be. We’re very excited.

“I’m not coming in to make a lot of changes immediately. Over time there will be some changes, but my goal is to come in and listen and see what’s going on and continue to add to the great things that are happening.”

The new position takes effect Jan. 1, 2020. The annual salary is $150,000.

Amacker addressed the school board’s decision.

“Yes, I did apply for this appointed position,” Amacker said in a statement. “Naturally, I was very disappointed that I was not chosen, but I am proud of our many accomplishments during the past 12 years as superintendent. We have excelled in every area, and I hope this direction will continue moving forward.”

As for what’s in his future, Amacker he said he isn’t sure yet.

“I have always strived to be in God’s will and I will be waiting on him to direct me,” he said. “I have found waiting on God is not wasting time.”

Bus backlash

The decision to hire a new superintendent comes in the aftermath of a Sun Herald report last year about an assault on a disabled Jackson County student, then 14, on a school bus.

The Sun Herald released exclusive school bus-surveillance video of the assault involving special needs student’s former teacher, Kerri Anne Nettles, and ex-school bus driver, Antioinette Jane Raymond, in the 2014-15 school year.

Parents expressed outrage because they didn’t know the assault had occurred and lawmakers called for an investigation.

Angered parents, many of whom have special needs students, went to the school board to demand action, which included a call to end Amacker’s employment.

The state requires school superintendents to report such incidents to the state Department of Education, but MDE had no record of the bus assault ever being reported. Amacker, however, had said a report on the incident had been mailed to MDE, though he could not provide a copy.

Amacker also has pointed out that the school district, once it learned of the assault, immediately called the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department to investigate.

Amacker said Monday he does not believe the decision to hire someone new had anything to do with the report on the disabled student’s assault.

Amacker has 44 years of experience working in education, the last 10 of which he has served as superintendent of Jackson County schools.

Over the years, he has received top honors as a teacher of the year and administrator of the year. In 2018, the Mississippi Association of School Administrators named him superintendent of the year.

Margaret Baker is an investigative reporter whose search for truth exposed corrupt sheriffs, a police chief and various jailers and led to the first prosecution of a federal hate crime for the murder of a transgendered person. She worked on the Sun Herald’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina team. When she pursues a big story, she is relentless.