A joint retirement ceremony was held Wednesday for Joplin School District Superintendent Melinda Moss and Sandra Cantwell, executive director of student services, who combined have more than 60 years of experience in the educational field.
The reception drew a large crowd of city leaders, family, friends and colleagues to Memorial Education Center.
Kerry Sachetta, currently the assistant superintendent of operations and the incoming superintendent, said he worked with Moss for five years and Cantwell for 12 years during their time at the district.
“There’s nobody more hardworking than these two or (more) professional or pleasurable to work with,” he said. “They just make coming to work easy. When it comes to solving problems and working with students, personnel or it doesn’t matter what the issue is — their apparent concern for kids is emblematic with everything they do.”
Moss was hired as the superintendent of the Joplin School District in 2017 and has more than 30 years of experience in education. Prior to Joplin, she was the superintendent of schools in Harrison, Arkansas. She also previously taught special education and was a guidance counselor and a middle school principal.
When asked about her first day at the district, Moss said she can remember walking into the building and receiving a warm welcome from the staff and administration who worked with her to ensure a smooth transition as superintendent. She’ll do the same as Sachetta takes the reins July 1, acting as a consultant until the end of October.
“I think the district has been very mindful of a smooth transition, and it’s a testament to affirming the direction of where we’re headed because they sought fit to advance Dr. Sachetta to my role,” she said. “I think that good things will continue.”
Moss said she’s proud of the community’s commitment to student safety, as well as the successful passage of a bond issue to build Dover Hill Elementary School, which received a 79% voter approval rate for the construction project in 2020.
“I think building the leadership team that we have in place has been one of the best accomplishments during my time here because without them, no accomplishments would have taken place,” Moss said. “The bond issue passed with a high approval rating; that was amazing. Now, watching the progress of the additions at Kelsey Norman, the building going up at Dover Hill and solving those facility issues that we had, I think about those as accomplishments too. The district has worked very hard in the last five years to focus on improving student learning, curriculum alignment and consistency across the district.”
Ron Lankford, the district’s former chief financial officer, said Moss has left a lasting legacy.
“It’s about what you do with the time that you’re here that develops your legacy,” he said. “I just wanted to say that Moss has developed a legacy that will reach generations to come because of the time that she has spent here. She has built a team that’s worked with her. She knew where she was going, and she assessed the progress of what she was doing.”
Moss currently serves as an elected board trustee for the Public School Retirement System of Missouri. After her retirement, she will work part time as an educational consultant with EdCounsel LLC. She also plans to spend more time with her husband, their two children and three grandchildren.
Cantwell first joined the Joplin School District as an assistant high school principal in 2010 and also has approximately 30 years of experience in education. She was named Assistant Principal of the Year for Southwest Missouri in 2014 and named Assistant Principal of the Year for the state of Missouri the following year.
“One of the reasons why (she won the award) is because of all the things that she did along with her colleagues to help kids get across the stage and (stay) devoted to their schoolwork,” said Sachetta, previously the Joplin High School principal. “A lot of that has to do with the relationships that she built, and I appreciate her for that. She deserved that award without question.”
Sachetta said Cantwell has a strong work ethic and had worked at Memorial Education Center after the 2011 tornado. He said she showed true leadership and built a successful team around her in everything that she did at the district.
“We hired Sandra 12 years ago to come to the high school, and we got her from Neosho, where she had a successful career down there,” he said. “We needed someone to come in and really give us a shot in the arm with the high school and as the assistant principal. She worked with a lot of at-risk kids, and her expertise was outstanding, and that’s why she was selected.”
Cantwell was named executive director of student services in 2017. The student services department oversees areas in the school district such as special education, English language learner programs, early childhood and services for homeless and/or foster children.
“There were lots of after-hours work, but it was very fulfilling getting to be with the kids,” Cantwell said. “It’s not about me, but it’s about ‘we’ because we have so many people working together as a team that there’s no way that I could do it alone.”
Cantwell will be succeeded by former Bronaugh Superintendent Jordan Dickey, who will begin her new role July 1. Meanwhile, Cantwell said she’ll continue to work with area school districts as an educational consultant with the Southwest Center for Educational Excellence, an education service organization in Webb City.