After five months of searching, Valley Mills Independent School District officials have found their sole finalist for superintendent, and he is coming from a neighboring district.

The Valley Mills ISD school board chose China Spring Middle School Principal Mike Kelly on Wednesday night and will offer him a contract within the next month, Interim Superintendent Alan Oakley said.

Kelly, who has been principal at China Spring Middle for seven years, will replace Judi Whitis, who left in July to serve as superintendent at Decatur ISD. Kelly’s start date has not been determined, Oakley said.

“I could not be more pleased that another member of our leadership team was selected to lead a Central Texas school district,” China Spring Superintendent Marc Faulkner said in an email to the Tribune-Herald on Thursday. “Mr. Kelly follows Dr. (Joe) Kucera, who is in his second year at Lorena ISD as the superintendent who was our assistant superintendent for two years.

“Some people get upset when their team members are chosen to lead another district, but we kinda feel like it is a feather in our cap. If our leadership team members are being selected as superintendents in other districts we are obviously surrounding ourselves with great people and doing some great things.”

Until China Spring ISD officials can find someone to replace Kelly, the assistant principal and staff at China Spring Middle School will step up in his absence, Faulkner wrote.

Valley Mills’ hire comes at a time when the district is in the midst of another major transition: districtwide renovations tied to an $8.4 million bond passed this spring. It will be the first major renovation for Valley Mills ISD in about 30 years and will include changes to facilities across the board. Oakley, who will help Kelly settle into his new role, said the district might start turning ground as early as March.

“He’s got a lot of excitement and energy, and that’s what you want coming into a job like this,” Oakley said. “He has a strong heart for children and student success at all levels. He was spoken highly of, and I think he’s going to be a great asset to lead us forward.”

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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