LIBERTY — The principal of an A-rated Gulf Coast elementary school will become the first appointed superintendent of the Amite County School District.

School district trustees hired Don Cuevas, 58, to replace Scotty Whittington, who was elected to the job in 2011 and is retiring at the end of the year.

Cuevas begins his job in Amite County on Jan. 1.

He started his education career as a special education instructor in the Gulfport School District after earning a teaching degree at the University of Southern Mississippi. He was later hired as the GED program director for Harrison County Public School District and developed a 100% passing rate, he said.

He was promoted to principal at West Harrison High School and within two years improved its accountability rating from a D to an A. He worked for four years as principal at West Wortham Elementary and Middle School, an A-rated institution.

Cuevas is now the principal at Orange Grove Elementary, another A-rated school.

The school board announced his hiring on Thursday.

Cuevas said he takes a data-analytics approach to school administration.

“I enjoy looking at the data and fixing things that are broken,” he said.

Cuevas said he became interested in the position when it was advertized by the Mississippi School Boards Association, which assisted the district in its search, and noticed the district’s low rating and relative proximity to the Gulf Coast, where his family lives.

“I want to motivate and support the students and staff at the school,” he said. “I enjoy seeing something that needs a different approach and bringing that to the table.”

Amite County received an F rating three of the past four years and narrowly avoided state takeover last spring.

“If you have an F rating that means your district is a failure,” he said. “We have to move that rating up.”

Cuevas said he’s looking forward to bringing his analytic approach to school administration to Amite County.

“I’m very excited for the opportunity and the chance to make a positive change for both the students and for the community,” he said. “We’ll dive right into the data and hit the ground running once I walk through those doors come January.”

Cuevas said January is a perfect time for his appointment to take effect.

“The second half of the year is the most important in terms of data,” he said. “And it’s the best time to implement a change, to come up with a solid plan of action.”

He said he’s the right person to seize the opportunity.

“I really believe the data will show the right pathway,” he said. “Change is good. I like change.”

Cuevas was chosen over 12 other candidates. Although trustees have been discussing the change for months, the press release indicated the search was expedited, taking just five weeks to complete.

“Mr. Cuevas possesses leadership skills and a working knowledge of how to positively affect student achievement,” Trustee James Copeland said. “He knows what a successful school and district look like and will bring this experience to our school district. The board looks forward to working with him to serve the students in our school district.”

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