Cunningham returns to Southern Local as superintendent

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Tom Cunningham

SALINEVILLE – A familiar face is returning in a new role at Southern Local Schools after Tom Cunningham was named the newest superintendent.

Cunningham was among 13 candidates for the post and was formally approved during a special school board session July 2, where he received a two-year contract to lead the district.

He will be paid $86.500 for fiscal year 2019 and $89,00 in 2020.

He previously served as principal at Southern Local elementary (SLES) and most recently at Beaver Local High School (BLHS). He will officially take the helm at Southern Local Aug. 1.

Cunningham succeeds longtime superintendent John Wilson, who resigned for medical reasons in May. Columbiana County Educational Service Center Superintendent Anna Marie Vaughn has held the job in an interim capacity.

The East Liverpool resident earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Ohio Wesleyan University and a master’s degree in library and information science from Kent State University, plus Cunningham obtained his principal and superintendent’s licensure from Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Cunningham said he initially planned to attend law school but switched fields after taking an education course his senior year at Ohio Wesleyan. His career path led him to become a media specialist at the Columbiana Career and Technical Center from 1991-2001 with further stints as a media specialist in the East Liverpool City and Beaver Local School Districts.

He then served as principal at SLES from 2008-2011 before moving on to BLHS. In addition, he was an East Liverpool councilman for 15 years, has acted as president of the Buckeye 8 Athletic Conference and also coached football, baseball and wrestling.

His family includes wife Amy and their daughter, Caylee.

During his time at Southern Local Elementary, the building achieved an excellent distinction for the first time and maintained that level of student and teacher performance, while STAR assessments and monitoring were also initiated. Other highlights ranged from his coordinating and leading staff professional development sessions to an annual NASA Space Day as a project-based activity.

Cunningham said he looked forward to returning and working with the board and district staff.

“It’s a great community and we’ve got a great school, great staff and great teachers,” he said. “I loved being here.”

He added that he enjoys working with kids and his intention is to become familiar with the district again before implementing any plans.

“I’m still trying to get a feel for Southern Local and am not looking at any major changes. I want to start working with the community and build good relationships with parents, and I want us to be the hub of the community.”

Cunningham also hoped to establish a positive atmosphere, look at STEM projects and maximize opportunities for students.

School board officials welcomed Cunningham and said he has plenty of expertise to lead the district.

“He knows our geography and what we’re about here at Southern Local,” said board President Michael Abraham. “He was a really good fit for us,” he added.

“I think Mr. Cunningham is going to be an excellent asset to the Southern Local School District,” said board Vice President Jay Cole. “He brings fresh ideas and the board, staff and faculty look forward to working with him.

“Our schools are busy with activities 24/7/365 and it’s a little different from what education used to be. We have to adapt to changes and I think Mr. Cunningham is up to the challenge,” Cole commented.

“Tom was here as a very valued administrator and building principal,” added board member John Sawyer. “We’re very excited to have him back to lead the ship.

“He is experienced on the administrative level and it’s good to have him back,” commented board member Linda Morris.

“I’m glad he’s here and I think he’ll be a great addition to the school district,” said board member Kip Dowling.

Meanwhile, Vaughn will remain in place during the transition period and expects things to go very smoothly.

“I think Tom is going to be a great match for Southern Local,” she concluded. “He’s been here and is familiar with the district and has been an elementary and high school principal. We’re going to work with him to get him started.”