Advocate Staff Report
The 2012 outstanding Kentucky school superintendent is a problem-solver “who has an unusual ability to notice what others overlook,” according to an educator who recommended him for the honor.
That problem-solver is John Paul Amis, superintendent of Perry County Schools.
“He has a system for problem solving that includes thinking through a problem, gathering data and encouraging all involved to share their ideas and talents,” said Abbie Combs, a teaching and leadership field representative for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, in her nominating letter.
Amis received the F.L. Dupree Award for Outstanding Superintendent Feb. 4, during the Kentucky School Boards Association’s annual conference in Louisville. The award is sponsored by the family of F.L. Dupree Sr., administered by KSBA and judged by previous recipients.
Amis began his career in 1983 as a teacher, basketball coach and athletics director at Perry County’s Buckhorn High School. He moved to the central office in 1989 as safe schools coordinator and into the top job in 1994. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University and a master’s degree and Rank I from Morehead State.
In accepting the award, Amis recalled that he was the youngest, least experienced administrator in the building when he became superintendent “straight from the classroom.” He said he was lucky to have guidance and direction from others “and an excellent group of people around me.”
Amis praised current and former Perry County school board members, saying “the vast majority have been on the board for the right reasons.”
As a former award-winning basketball coach, he said, he always gave credit to the team and did the same with the Dupree Award.
“My name may be on the plaque but it is a total team effort. I’m blessed to work in a community that values education. I’m blessed to have good students, a good staff, good parents – just a great place to work,” he said.
During his tenure as superintendent, according to his nomination, he has changed the direction of teaching and learning in the district, including instituting a total curriculum alignment, assessment matched to instruction and model teaching programs in writing, science and math. Exemplifying his advocacy of school technology, the district’s 11 schools have intelligent classrooms. The nomination also cited his leadership in school finance and school construction.
Amis has worked with Hazard Community and Technical College on high school dual-credit offerings “that have ensured that his students get an early exposure to the collegiate environment,” said Doug Fraley, the college’s vice president for student services.
Board Chairman John C. Combs summed up his support of Amis succinctly: “He is the real deal,” he wrote in his Dupree Award nomination.
Students and staff
Amis instituted a home visit program aimed at helping at-risk students. He encourages students to get involved in student councils and school committees and frequently talks to both students and staff to assess school culture, the nomination said. He has implemented a student leadership program at the district’s high school.
Amis wins praise from staff for his open-door policy. He also meets with both certified and classified staff in regular visits to schools, which has improved morale and communications.
District High School Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Caudill said Amis actively participates in teacher evaluation walk-through observations.
“When our teachers see this, it encourages them to stay focused and work harder to do the best they can for our students,” she said in her nominating letter. “When our students see this, they, too, are encouraged and they view him as a caring superintendent with their best interests at heart.”
Assistant Superintendent Johnny Wooton noted Amis spends time reading research articles to improve classroom instruction, and then shares those with administrators “to improve our leadership skills.”
Amis’ impact also has been felt in the community. Ricky L. Baker, executive director of the Perry Community Action Council, Inc., said Amis has helped the agency communicate the importance of job skills to youth.
“His encouragement and positive messages about preparing for the future to the youth have assisted us in helping those qualified for the services we provide,” Baker said.
The superintendent also set up a district drug task force of school and community members to establish and implement a drug prevention and intervention program, accompanied by board approval of student random drug testing.
“These actions by Superintendent (Amis) have made our schools safer and our students more aware of the dangers of abusing drugs,” according to Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative.
Professionally, Amis has a long list of memberships in education organizations, including a term as president of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents in 2003-04 and service on the board of the East Kentucky Challenger Center and the Kentucky Educational Development Corp., which named him superintendent of the year in 2005.
Currently, he is a board member at the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, Kentucky Association of School Administrators and KSBA’s Kids First political action committee; and secretary of the Kentucky Interlocal School Transportation Association.
On a personal level, Amis, a colon cancer survivor, sits on the University of Kentucky Cancer Advisory Committee and is a speaker for its “Faces of Colon Cancer” exhibit.