a conversation with Seals on Madison County schools

Charlotte Seals was recently named superintendent of the Madison County School District. The Vicksburg native earned her degree from Millsaps College. She started her career in education at Yazoo City High School as a biology and chemistry teacher before moving to Madison County School District. She took on several administrative roles before being named superintendent of the district. Seals spoke with Sun staff writer Nikki Rowell about the challenges the district is facing and her goals for the upcoming year.

How long have you worked with the school district?

“I’m completing my 31st year, I believe.”

Did you have any idea that you would someday end up in this office?

“No. You know, when you’re 22 or 23, that’s how old I was when I was teaching there, I loved being with the kids. So, I never thought about moving into a district office role. I may have had some thoughts about moving into school administration and serving as an assistant principal or principal. I come from a family of educators. My mom taught. My dad was a band director and principal. I had aunts and uncles that were teachers and school administrators. You know, beyond being a principal, I really did not see that in my path.”

Tell me about what your first few weeks in this new role have been like.

“It’s been jam-packed. We’ve been quite busy. It’s the end of the school year. We’re in the middle of finalizing the school district budget. So, it has been pretty intense. But it’s been great. The summers in a school district are really very busy. I think people think that when school is out we all go home and go to the pool or go to the beach or whatever. And we do get to have a little down time, but we’re extremely busy during the summer because we are preparing for the upcoming year. So, in the last few weeks also I’ve been visiting the schools because I want to get a feel for what type of summer projects we will be doing in terms of repairs and renovations. So, we have 23 schools, so that takes time.”

You mentioned how busy the summers can be. What else does the district have going on this summer?

“We have lots of summer repairs and renovations that we will be working on. We do tons of training. Tons of training. The way our professional development works with our teachers, when they come in, starting in July, they all come into their schools for two days. So, you have all those trainings happening at the school. Then the district provides training opportunities for teachers over the summer. We do a large amount of training with our principals as well. Our principals have to stay updated on changes in terms of changes in law, guidelines from MDE and more. Another huge piece of the summer will be staffing and processing all of our incoming staff. So, providing orientation for our new teachers and other staff members, getting them hired so we can get them a contract. Inputting all the information from the budget year. Those are some of the biggest areas we will focus on during the summer.”

What are some of the goals you have for the school district?

“I was at Camden Elementary to speak to students. They were having their honor society induction. My three C’s are: I want to develop students who can create, collaborate and communicate. For us, I think that is trying to push the instructional envelope for all of our kids. At my heart, I still think like a teacher or a principal, so I’m thinking how can we get better? How can we improve and take it to the next level the quality of instruction? We want kids who can be creative and think and problem solve. We want them to be able to communicate effectively. We want them to be able to collaborate and work with individuals and figure out how to problem solve and to resolve conflict.”

The district has grown so much since you first began working here. What are some things you’ve seen change over those years?

“When I came, we had eight schools. Now, we are at 23. We’ve grown. The buildings that we have. We’ve been able to have total upgrades, either new buildings or total renovations. Our facilities are so much better. Technology-wise, we have really pushed the envelope with technology. We are a very diverse district. I think when I came, we were a small rural district and now we are very much well-known suburban district. But I think one of the goals for us and what made Madison County grow and be successful is the fact that back then our schools had a neighborhood or a sense of community feel to it. That’s harder to maintain as you grow. But I want to make sure that we maintain that sense of community. Working on school culture is very important. I think it also ties into us having academic success as well.”

What are some challenges that the district has encountered with that growth?

“We still face growth challenges, particularly in the Germantown zone. We have a growing English as a second language population, which is great. We welcome diversity. We are working to be able to make sure that we can provide the very best for them to meet them where they are in terms of helping them to acquire English as a second language. That’s something we’re really focusing on. The ‘problems’ I think we have are good ‘problems’ to have, to be growing and have people want to be a part of our district. When you have that, then you have to plan and figure out how to meet all of those needs.”

With all of the challenges that growth brings, is there a need for more teachers? Has the district been impacted by the state-wide teacher shortage?

“Is there a teacher shortage? No doubt. Are we seeing that? Yes. But we have been very blessed that we start the school year staffed. We are not suffering. We are not starting school with many vacancies. I talked about culture. If you can provide the best culture in a school building, then your teachers are more likely to want to stay. We are working with our teachers extensively on that to think about the culture. What can we do to make sure our teachers have everything that they need and feel supported, feel valued and have input?”

Tell me some things you’re excited about stepping into this role.

“I’m excited about the challenge. I’m excited to have the opportunity just to really help guide our district and to be the advocate and cheerleader for our district. To be out there with our teachers and kids and be the very best for them. I believe that we have a great team and my job is to support the team, encourage and kind of steer the ship. Let’s go out there and do great things.”

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