Laurel schools pick new boss

School Board Attorney Richard Yoder, from left, Superintendent Dr. Toy L. Watts, School Board President Miranda Beard, (pictured back L-R) school board members Ann Barrow, Doncella Milton, Dr. James Johnson-Hill and Jim Rasberry.

Moss Point assistant superintendent bests nine for $135,000 per year post

An educator and administrator with more than 20 years experience in both Mississippi and Atlanta is the next superintendent of the Laurel School District.

A Friday morning meeting of the school board drew about 80 people to see the swearing in of Dr. Toy L. Cook as the district’s next leader, supplanting Dr. Chuck Benigno, who is taking a teaching position at William Carey University.

Watts’ first day on the job will be Monday. She signed a 3 1/2-year contract valued at $135,000 per year.

“It’s full speed ahead,” Board of Trustees President Miranda Beard said after Watts signed her contract.

Watts was one of 22 people targeted for the top post with the city school district and, of those, 10 were interviewed in public.

“What this individual can bring to the table will be beneficial to the administration, and more importantly to the children of the Laurel School District,” Beard said.

Watts, who has three children, has worked in many areas of education from teaching to administration in districts including Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, Vicksburg-Warren School District, Atlanta and most recently in Moss Point.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Dillard University in New Orleans in 1996 and a Master of Education in School Counseling from Southern Miss in 2001. She received her doctorate degree in educational administration from USM in 2012.

“I’m so excited to be part of the Laurel family,” she said. “I am looking forward to working with the community and my district team to push the Laurel School District to new levels of achievement.”

While most of the mood was upbeat, a few critics derided the choice.

Outspoken community activist Anthony Hudson said the board should have given preference to Oak Park Elementary School Principal Tito Lanier.

Lanier was the only intradistrict candidate to be interviewed and Hudson said it was Lanier’s work at Oak Park that should have been the driving force to elevate him to superintendent.

Watts has most recently served as assistant superintendent of the Moss Point School District.

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