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Dr. Johnny Branch, right, received congratulations from outgoing Superintendent Don Spence following Branch’s selection Wednesday by the MCBE to head the school system over the next four years.

The Mingo County Board of Education on Wednesday, March 17, named Assistant Superintendent Dr. Johnny Branch as the new superintendent of Mingo County Schools.

Branch will be taking over later this year and replacing outgoing Superintendent Don Spence, who announced his retirement on Feb. 24 during a special session.

Both Spence’s retirement and Branch’s four-year contract as superintendent will become effective July 1, 2021. The details of Branch’s contract were not disclosed.

While acknowledging that the other five candidates were highly qualified and possessed the leadership abilities necessary to successfully steer Mingo County Schools in the right direction over the next four years, board members said the ultimate reason they selected Branch was due to the experience he has gained in the five years he has been assistant superintendent.

“God blessed us today because I can’t imagine having six people who were as knowledgeable and came with more leadership qualities than all six of these individuals had,” MCBE President James Ed Baisden said after the board reconvened from the closed session interviews. “We couldn’t come to any conclusion really quick. It was a long discussion as to who should lead this school system forward but everybody ultimately came to a consensus.”

Board member Tom Slone said Branch’s leadership in putting together the technology necessary for remote and virtual learning by the start of the 2020-21 school year was also a major factor in his selection.

“All the applicants had great qualifications, but I think Dr. Branch’s experience and his involvement with the technology that our teachers and students needed to successfully function during the pandemic were what put him a little above the others,” Slone said. “And he’s also a proven leader as an assistant superintendent, and I just think all of us felt he was the best choice for keeping Mingo County Schools moving successfully forward.”

Branch said he was both humbled and grateful at being selected to lead the school system during the next four years, crediting both the current board and Spence “in bringing our district to where it is today.”

“Our district is facing several challenges. The recent changes to state law make it more important than ever that we demonstrate why our families should see Mingo County Schools as a safe, inviting, and high-quality learning environment,” he said following his selection. “When a parent puts their child on the bus in the morning, they should expect that child to return home with new understandings, and a desire to get back on that bus the next day. As the superintendent, I want to help build the capacity for growth and leadership in our teachers, principals, and our service staff.”

Branch said because the pandemic has put an emotional strain on students, he will be working with the board and school staff to provide greater access to mental health and support services for students.

Branch said he considers himself fortunate because he is being handed a relatively financially stable school system.

“Throughout a time of dwindling revenue sources, I know the wise actions of our board, Superintendent Spence, and our finance department have brought us to a financial standing that will enable us to proceed with needed repairs and upgrades to our facilities,” he said. “We are looking toward securing remaining funding and developing a schedule to address several roof and ventilation projects.”

Branch first began in the Mingo County School System in 2004 as a substitute teacher, eventually obtaining his first full-time teaching position that same year.

He served two years as principal of Williamson High School before becoming principal at Tug Valley High School in 2010.

He remained principal at TVHS until being selected by Spence in 2017 to become assistant schools superintendent.