Judi Whitis

Valley Mills Superintendent Judi Whitis has taken a position as superintendent for Decatur ISD. She will take the new role Monday, the same day an interim superintendent takes over for Valley Mills.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file

As if major high school renovations tied to an $8.4 million bond are not enough of a transition to go through in the next two years for Valley Mills ISD, the district also will be getting a new superintendent.

Judi Whitis, who served as the district’s superintendent for three years, will start in her new position as Decatur ISD’s superintendent Monday.

The district’s board of trustees has named Alan Oakley to serve as the interim superintendent as it goes through the search process to permanently fill the position, Whitis said Wednesday. Oakley will start in his new position Monday.

Whitis said Valley Mills will have a special place in her heart, and the decision to leave wasn’t an easy one to make.

“I’ve been extremely pleased with the job there,” Whitis said. “This opportunity presented itself and as a part of my career, I felt like I needed to take advantage of it.”

Oakley has served as an interim superintendent for several Texas districts, most recently at Red Oak ISD from November until May. He was also superintendent for Palmer ISD and served 17 years in law enforcement before going into education.

He expects to be in the district at least through the first semester of the upcoming school year while the trustees decide on the best way to approach the search for the district’s chief, Oakley said.

Until then, he will be stepping up to manage the district through approving a budget for next year. He also will move forward on plans for the high school’s renovation, with the guidance of the board and leadership support through the Region 12 Education Service Center, he said.

“The board was very adamant regarding continuing to move the district forward,” Oakley said. “I could tell the board’s two key areas were making sure the budget comes in as it should, and with Dr. Whitis, it’s 90 percent completed, and continuing to push the programs that have helped make Valley Mills successful academically.”

In May, under Whitis’ leadership, the district approved an $8.4 million bond initiative to expand and renovate the high school side of the high school/junior high building, which hadn’t been updated since it was built in 1988. The bond also will cover smaller renovations to the elementary school. It will be the first major districtwide construction project in 30 years and is expected to be completed in two years.

Whitis said she is confident in Oakley’s ability to lead and make major decisions involving the project with the board. She has been working closely with him to help with the transition, she said.

“He’ll have to lead some of those processes and carry it through because the district doesn’t certainly want to lose any of the momentum,” she said.

Oakley won’t be trying to blaze new trails in the district unless that is what the board wants, he said. He is looking forward to the sense of family small-town school districts like Valley Mills ISD can provide, and he wants to make sure not a single tradition is missed during his time in Valley Mills.

“One of my big concerns, and I told the board this: I don’t want to miss a tradition I was unaware of, because traditions are important to every school district, but they’re certainly equally important to smaller school districts,” Oakley said.

Meanwhile, Decatur ISD is ready to welcome Whitis with open arms, according to a press release from the district.

“She is a respected educator, and her background in administration as well as her innovative ideas and proven abilities in leadership will be a great fit for Decatur,” Decatur ISD board President Wade Watson said in the press release.

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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