Dr. David Sistrunk, the late superintendent of education of the Kosciusko School District, is remembered for many things during his tenure.
Building projects in the district included upgrades and improvements at all schools, such as the library at Lower Elementary. Perhaps the biggest building project was the new high school, which was built without a bond issue. Retired KHS principal Jonathan Carnes mentioned several building projects at the high school, including the band hall, the Fine Arts building, and improvements to the gym and weight room.
“Dr. Sistrunk showed tremendous leadership. He pushed academics and athletics to work together and always encouraged the coaches to motivate the kids to achieve academically,” said Carnes.
As for academics, Carnes remembers the district placing high in the state levels.
“The district was all As for several years, and I cannot remember it dropping below a B,” he said. Sistrunk established the “boot camps” to help students before testing started, and he always expected good instruction from teachers.
While having high standards for educators, Sistrunk never expected his employees to do something he would not do.
“He would pick up paper, clean a toilet, grab a weed eater. He wanted everything presentable and there was nothing he wouldn’t do. He believed in making things look good, and that included the buses. He made sure that the buses were cleaned inside and out before any athletic or band trip. That was one of his pet peeves. He wanted everything in place and spit-shined,” Carnes said.
Carnes also remembers Sistrunk for his leadership style.
“I knew I could speak my mind with him. We could have a falling out, but in the end, it was okay to agree to disagree and we would get over it. He didn’t hold grudges,” said Carnes. “He was great to work for, and you always knew where you stood with him.”
Former school board member Dr. Tim Alford agreed.
“His leadership was all business; there was no fooling around,” said Alford.
School board president Dr. Kenneth Quick remembers Sistrunk’s basic philosophy.
“He said that all kids can learn. If you push them, they will learn, and pushing them is the only way they learn. I will never forget that he was so determined that all kids can learn,” said Quick.
To assist with this learning, Sistrunk kept up with the latest developments.
“He wanted to be on the front row with getting things going and wanted to be above everyone else. Whether it was computers or calculators, if the kids needed it, he would get it,” Quick said.
Sistrunk also especially wanted to emphasize math and science.
“He was in favor of the Math Building at the Junior High, and wanted to give kids the opportunity to enjoy school while making them learn,” Quick said.
Despite the focus on academic performance, however, Sistrunk also favored extracurricular activities.
“He stayed on top of band, baseball, football, basketball, and other activities. He knew that extracurricular builds character and that it was important for students to expand themselves,” said Quick.
But the bottom line was that no matter what, Sistrunk was for the kids.
“He was a tightwad, but if the kids needed it, he would get it. If a teacher wanted something, they had to prove that it was an advantage for the kids. He did his homework and was very thorough. Money had to be spent for a good reason,” Quick said.
Like Carnes, Quick said he always knew where he stood with Sistrunk.
“He would say, ‘We might disagree but I’m still on your side.’ We might have to meet in the middle on an issue, but it was always for the kids,” Quick remembered.
Like Carnes and Quick, Sistrunk’s widow, Marianna, said her late husband was a firm believer that education should be excellent for all students, no matter what their background.
“He advocated that belief while a member of the State Board of Education by promoting excellence in education for all students statewide until his retirement in 2009,” she said.
Sistrunk’s retirement did not end his involvement in education.
“In retirement, he was involved with teaching teachers and administrators in other school districts across Mississippi how to become excellent,” Marianna said.
Sistrunk was also able to enjoy his retirement in other ways.
“He developed his talents in his art, knife-making, and hunting, as well as enjoying his grandchildren and attending as many MSU games as possible,” she said.
Marianna recently donated a chair in memory of “Doc.”
“I know that ‘Doc’ would be pleased that KFEE and the Kosciusko School Board have repurposed the Junior High Auditorium into the Skipworth Performing Arts Center,” she said.