Assuming Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant concurs with the state takeover of the Jackson School District, Dr. Margie Pulley has her work cut out for her.
Pulley, a former superintendent of the Greenwood School District who still resides here, has been selected to run the state’s second-largest — and very troubled — school district in the event a state of emergency is declared.
Pulley, since retiring from the Greenwood district in 2012, has developed a reputation for being a turnaround artist at failing and dysfunctional districts.
She has been appointed a conservator twice already — first at Oktibbeha County, where she helped prepare it for its merger with the larger Starkville district, and most recently at Tunica County.
What apparently has impressed her bosses at the Mississippi Board of Education the most, and rightfully so, is she has been one of the few conservators who has been able to not only right troubled districts managerially but also to raise academic performance. Tunica County last year improved to a “C,” or successful, rating on the state’s A-to-F accountability grading. When she was the superintendent in Greenwood, she also improved its rating to the equivalent of what is now a “C” grade.
Jackson, though, is going to be the biggest challenge she has ever faced in her more than four decades in education — in large part because it’s so big.
Pulley’s career, including as a conservator, have been in small to mid-size districts. Jackson, with 27,000 students and almost 60 schools, has levels of bureaucracy with which she has never had to deal. Pulley is a no-nonsense administrator who likes to have her hands on most of what’s going on in the districts she has run. There’s no way, though, she will be able to micromanage a district as large as Jackson’s.
But Pulley is driven. One of the things that has motivated her since leaving the Greenwood district is to disprove some of her local doubters and detractors.
If she can pull off a turnaround in Jackson, she will have more than ample reason to feel validated.
Tim Kalich is the Editor and Publisher at the Greenwood Commonwealth in Greenwood, Miss.