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DeSoto County votes on a pair of school board seats

By , Special to The Daily Memphian Updated: November 02, 2022 9:01 AM CT | Published: October 28, 2022 11:23 AM CT

DeSoto County voters will decide two school board races on Nov. 8, one to fill a slot being vacated by longtime political office holder Milton Nichols.

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Nichols has been the District 1 representative on the DeSoto County School Board for two terms or 12 years.

Josh Sullivan, vice president at a medical device company, and James “Eric” Wright, an account manager at a software company, are seeking the District 1 seat.

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Nichols, who is in his 80s, was Olive Branch’s mayor for two decades before winning a spot on the DeSoto County School Board. By not seeking a third term, he left room for the two political newcomers to go head-to-head.

The only other board position on the Nov. 8 ballot is District 2.

Michele Henley is trying to win a second term facing challenger April Wright. Henley is a former teacher and a small business owner while Wright is a librarian with First Regional Library.

The elections are tiered to prevent a 100% turnover of the board. The District 3, 4 and 5 positions will be on the ballot in 2023.

School Board members serve six-year terms and oversee the administration of 39 schools and a $446.9 million budget (this fiscal year). More than 34,400 students are enrolled across the district.

Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 8.

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Michele Henley

Henley, 53, came to DeSoto County as a child. Her parents enrolled her in a Horn Lake school, and today, she is a resident of Southaven.

The former teacher at Greenbrook Elementary has had three daughters graduate from the DeSoto County system, and a fourth still is a student. Henley is co-owner of an industrial cleaning services business.

She believes the board successfully provides a safe environment for children to learn and teachers to work.

“That’s one of the main things we do,” she said.

If elected to another term, she wants to be a part of relationship-building with the broader community. It could open internships and other job and skill-training opportunities for students.

“I would like to see our community businesses and community leaders have more of a collaboration” with us, Henley said.

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April Wright

Her opponent, meanwhile, wants to increase individualized instruction in the classroom and boost accessibility to the school board.

Wright, 40, of Southaven, moved to DeSoto County eight years ago. She has been a librarian for about a dozen years.

“A lot of the time, I have specialized in children services,” Wright said. “I’ve done a lot of story times.”

She has two children in the school system and wants to be an example of an involved citizen. She lost a bid to be an alderman in 2021 but hopes to win the school board job.

“It’s important to have parents on the board,” Wright said.

She wants class sizes reduced — “my son has 26 kids in his kindergarten class,” she said — and she wants the board to meet at hours suitable for public participation.

“The meetings are at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., which means a lot of working parents are not able to attend, and teachers are not able to attend,” she said.

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Josh Sullivan

In District 1, Sullivan, 47, believes his financial background would be an asset on the board. He works at a surgical instruments and implants manufacturing company, but he spent 20 years in the banking industry.

“Our school system is a big driver of our economic engine,” Sullivan said. “I believe in being fiscally responsible.”

The Yazoo, Mississippi native has lived in DeSoto County about 25 years. He lives just outside of Olive Branch. His stepson is a student in the school system.

Sullivan wants to make sure pockets in the district growing as fast as, say, DeSoto Central, get a fair share of resources from their taxes. He likes the idea, for example, of upgrading the career and technology center, also known as vo-tech, in Olive Branch.

“The biggest challenge is the growth,” Sullivan said. “We’re looking at the middle of the county growing more so than the edges.”

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James ‘Eric’ Wright

Wright, 44, of Olive Branch, also is looking at the edges, though not quite the same way as Sullivan. Wright is looking at those who feel left behind.

“They are the quiet students. They may be introverts. They may be ‘on the spectrum,’” he said. “A lot of different populations you could tap into. … Bring them in; open up some dialogue. There’s a portion of the community that needs to be reached out to. I’m open. I’m willing to listen.”

Wright is a graduate of Olive Branch High School. He has two children still in the school system. He is a Church of Christ minister and was in the car business, working up to 70 hours a week, until recently.

He then started working from home. It was a game-changer. Now he has the time to “give back” — to his family and his community.

“I’ve been a part of getting my kids ready for school in the mornings, and I’m here when they get back in the afternoons,” he said. “I think the most important qualification (to be on the school board) is being a concerned parent and being a citizen of the community.”


DeSoto County Schools Milton Nichols Josh Sullivan James "Eric" Wright Michele Henley April Wright
Toni Lepeska

Toni Lepeska

Toni Lepeska is a freelance reporter for The Daily Memphian. The 34-year veteran of newspaper journalism is an award-winning essayist and covers a diversity of topics, always seeking to reveal the human story behind the news. Toni, who grew up in Cayce, Mississippi, is a graduate of the University of Mississippi. To learn more, visit


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