Rupert Howell 5/7/13

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rupert Howell

Sissell’s influence in classroom touched many

A former elected official who I much admired passed quietly away April 21. There is always an urge to write about friends and acquaintances when they pass away, but I think it’s almost an obligation when they have served in an elected capacity.

The late William (Mr. Bill) Sissell served one term as Panola County’s Superintendent of Education.

A farmer by birth and an educator by choice, Mr. Bill entered the political realm when a popular incumbent quietly decided not to run for re-election just prior to Sissell qualifying at a late hour to be on the ballot. Any opposition candidate would not have had time to file papers.

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The opposition would have come as the result of a long-standing feud in the south end of Panola County over the consolidation of schools when rural schools except in Batesville and Pope were shuttered. That consolidation and its implementation some 20 years prior preceded integration consolidation of the late 1960s and ‘70s.

The county superintendent’s job consisted mainly of transportation—buses and drivers, school payroll and funds. By all accounts, Sissell did an admirable job. With experience from his agrarian upbringing, farm management knowledge, classroom and administrative experience, there were few complaints.

The problem was that Sissell was not a politician and after one term he was defeated by a candidate who at the time became the most electable candidate in Panola County, Joe B. Hartley, who would hold on to that job as long as he wanted. Hartley later resigned and that office was abolished. Duties were turned over to the two county school districts.

But it was not politics for which Sissell should be remembered—it was his teaching skills and ability to recognize and challenge junior high and high school students who had a knack for the sciences.

Sissell would go on to teach and be an administrator at Northwest Community College and be productive in community service until his death last month.

At the funeral service was Dr. Robert (Buffa) Maddux, a 1970 South Panola graduate and current clinical director at Mississippi’s State Hospital at Whitfield.

“He (Mr. Sissell) had a direct influence in my education and what I’m doing today,” Maddux said emphatically, something Maddux got to reveal to Sissell at his 40-year class reunion three years ago.

There is no telling how many others Mr. Bill directly touched as teacher and mentor while an educator at South Panola Schools.