Preston Caldwell picked to head up West Carroll schools

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THE BOARD’S CHOICE – Preston Caldwell, principal at Lake Co. High School, answers questions from West Carroll school board members during one of two interviews for the director of schools position Thursday night. After the interviews, the board voted to offer the job to Caldwell.

If negotiations go well, the West Carroll Special School District will soon have a new director of schools.

During a called meeting Thursday night, members of the West Carroll Board of Education voted unanimously to enter into contract negotiations with Preston Caldwell of Milan with the intention of hiring Caldwell as the new director of schools.

Caldwell, who currently serves as principal at Lake County High School in Tiptonville, was one of two candidates interviewed by the board Thursday night, along with Medina resident Rory Hinson, supervisor and CTE director at Gibson County High School.

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According to school board chairman William Robinson, the two were picked for interviews from among five applicants for the director job, though one of those applicants did not meet all of the qualifications set fourth by the board.

If a contract with Caldwell is approved, he will be replacing current Director of Schools Dexter Williams, who recently announced that he is resigning effective June 30 to take positions as head boys basketball coach and athletic director at Trinity Christian Academy (TCA) in Jackson.

As of press time Monday, Robinson and board attorney Christopher Hayden were still engaged in contract negotiations with Caldwell, and, according to Robinson, those negotiations seemed to be going well.

“I feel confident we will be reaching a deal that the board can ratify at the April 6 board meeting,” said Robinson in a Monday telephone interview.

As far as the salary the board will be offering to Caldwell, Robinson said the board has left that up to his discretion. Under his current contract, Williams is making a little over $100,000 a year. 

Before making a decision Thursday night, the board conducted extensive individual interviews with both Caldwell and Hinson with board members taking turns asking each candidate a series of relevant questions.

During his interview, Caldwell cited his ability to form positive professional relationships and to communicate directly and effectively with school administrators and staff as two of his main strengths.

Caldwell said he intends to set a new tone right off the bat, fostering a more positive school environment and setting a high performance bar for students, teachers, and administrators. Specifically, he said he will aim at increasing ACT scores and raising the district’s overall Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAS) score up to an exemplary rating.

Caldwell also said he intends to be very visible and accessible as director and work toward increasing community engagement with the school system.

“I will be the most involved director you’ve ever seen,” said Caldwell during his interview.

One board member asked Caldwell if he would be willing to relocate to the West Carroll area.

“Once I felt a solid, firm vestment – absolutely I would consider that,” he said.

When asked the same question, Hinson said that he would probably not be willing to move at this time due to his wife’s current job situation.

During discussions following the interviews, board members commented that Hinson had an impressive resume and that he had good communication skills, but they generally agreed that Caldwell was the stronger candidate, specifically citing the extensive knowledge he showed regarding the school district and his willingness to move into the community.

In a Friday telephone interview, Caldwell said he was excited about the new position, though he did feel some sadness at leaving Lake County.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone at the West Carroll Special School District,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to becoming a part of the Carroll County community.”

A 1988 graduate of Milan High School, Caldwell holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from UT Martin and a Masters of Arts and Teaching (MAT) from the University of Memphis. He taught chemistry and biology for 18 years at Milan High School before taking the principal position at Lake County High School, where he has been for the past five years.

He and his wife, Valerie, have two sons, Addison and Drew.

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