By STEVEN NALLEY
If Walter Gonsoulin ever returns to the Golden Triangle, it won’t be the first time.
Gonsoulin began his teaching career in Louisiana before becoming principal of the Columbus School District’s Lee Middle School from 1997-1999. Returning briefly to Louisiana, he then spent 2000-2001 as assistant director of the Starkville School District’s Millsaps Career and Technology Center. Then, he spent several years as an assistant professor at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette before becoming the SSD’s assistant superintendent.
“I didn’t come here until I was 27 years old, but when I came, I joined Peter’s Rock (Temple Church of God in Christ), and they became my family,” Gonsoulin said. “I love Starkville, and I love the area. The second time I left, I had no intentions of leaving, but my parents got ill, and they passed away in the window of six years (before I became SSD assistant superintendent). My church family ... I always stayed in contact with them after my parents were deceased, because I knew I was going to go back.”
Now, Gonsoulin is on the move again.
In July, Gonsoulin will become the Fairfield (Ala.) City School District’s superintendent, and he moved to Alabama to begin acclimating this past week.
Gonsoulin said he has wanted to be a superintendent since early in his teaching career, so while he will miss Starkville, he did not want to miss the opportunity in Fairfield.
“I believe it’s another season in my life,” Gonsoulin said. “You have to move on and be what you’ve been called to be, and to be that, you have to be where those opportunities are. If I get a chance to come back home (to Starkville,) I wouldn’t be against it. Who knows what the future holds. For now, I’m here in Alabama, and it’s where I’m excited to be.”
Ever since his days as a student in New Iberia, La., Gonsoulin said he has always loved school, and he loves working in school administration because it allows him to be a lifelong learner. In fact, he said he viewed his tenure as assistant superintendent as a learning opportunity, one that has prepared him to build the FCSD into one of Alabama’s strongest school districts.
“Right away, the first thing I had to tackle was the bond issue in 2007,” Gonsoulin said. “I was able to understand and get an appreciation of community relations and communication (and, through that process, produce) a building for our schools that everybody could be proud of.”
Keith Coble, SSD board president, said another of Gonsoulin’s key achievements was a strong connection with the GoPlay Initiative, working together with Starkville Parks and Recreation to get Starkville named a 2011 Playful City USA and develop plans for a universal playground at Sudduth in February. Coble said Gonsoulin’s upbeat personality and ability to work well with others within and outside the SSD has made him an asset.
“I think there were a lot of people in this community who felt like Dr. Gonsoulin was easy to work with,” Coble said. “Dr. Gonsoulin typically had a very cooperative, can-do attitude.”
Beverly Lowry, SSD director of child nutrition, said Gonsoulin also worked closely with her to make the SSD the state’s first school district to remove deep fat fryers and replace them with combination ovens. Lowry said Gonsoulin also provided strong support for SSD’s summer feeding program.
“He felt like children needed good nutrition,” Lowry said. “If we had any kind of issues — equipment issues, maintenance issues — he was always there to support what we needed. As long as you had your facts together and could explain what you wanted to do, he was always encouraging when you wanted to do anything creative. He was a friend; he was a mentor; he was just a great person to work for.”
Gonsoulin said he will miss the people he worked with directly in child nutrition, transportation, technology and other fields in the SSD. What has always stood out to him about Starkville, he said, is the extent to which parents get involved in their school district, offering their varying expertise as a resource.
“Now I can actually say I’ve experienced working alongside people who have a passion,” Gonsoulin said. “I just thank the SSD and the Starkville community for all the experiences they have (given) me. I’ve really enjoyed my stay there.”