Kentucky School Advocate
When Robbie Toms was elected to the Barren County school board in 1987, the district’s facility needs were numerous. Back then, there also were no dual-credit classes for Barren County High School students; parental involvement was flagging; and student and staff recognition by the board was lacking.
The improvements in those areas and others since that time were among the reasons Toms received the 2015 Proudfoot Award for Outstanding School Board Member, presented Feb. 28 during the Kentucky School Boards Association’s annual conference in Louisville. The award is sponsored by the Kentucky PTA and KSBA. Named for the late Dr. Warren Proudfoot, a Rowan County board member and past president of KSBA, the award recognizes a current school board member for distinguished leadership and community service.
During Toms’ 27-year tenure, the school board’s move to levy an additional nickel tax enabled the district to build seven new elementary schools, a consolidated middle school and a ninth-grade center, along with renovating an existing elementary and many other projects. Toms retired from board service at the end of 2014.
“With the leadership of Mr. Toms and our school board, we have ensured that every child will have an exceptional, state-of-the-art learning environment,” Barren County Schools Superintendent Bo Matthews wrote of Toms in the nomination that was made by Matthews and the school board.
Matthews accepted the award on Toms’ behalf at the conference; he could not attend due to a death.
Toms’ longevity on the board was an asset, providing the district with institutional memory. This was valuable when he served on the district’s Strategic Planning Committee, for example. “Being the chairman of the Barren County Board of Education for 21 years has given him a great deal of insight into where our school district has been and where it needs to go,” Matthews and the school board said.
His community service, which includes the Lions Club and volunteer fire department, is also reflected in school programs he supported, including the Barren County Junior ROTC and the Barren County Parent Volunteer Program.
That latter program had been in decline, but “with the vision” of Toms, the nomination said, volunteer numbers increased and volunteer hours climbed to 148,788 in the 2012-13 school year. He also was instrumental in reestablishing the district parent volunteer coordinator position.
During a district growth spurt over the last two decades – from 3,300 to over 5,000 – Toms stressed the importance of making sure students are prepared for the “real world,” and now the district offers 19 dual-credit and 12 advanced placement courses. “ … his leadership and foresight have enabled students to graduate high school with almost a full year of college coursework completed,” Matthews and the other board members said.
In other academic improvements, Toms was instrumental in a system in which principals report student performance data, school culture and climate data and school and district improvement plans at monthly school board meetings. He has also supported student and staff recognition at each board meeting – recognition that sometimes draws so many guests that the meeting must be moved to a larger site.
The nomination also pointed to Toms’ support for a board resolution encouraging state lawmakers to provide additional school funding, and for a study of statewide funding adequacy by the Council for Better Education.