Many educators still don’t realize that the Kentucky Department of Education has a program aimed at increasing the ranks of minority superintendents.
That may change, as an effort to raise the profile of the Kentucky Minority Superintendent Internship Program was launched with the help of a clinic session at KSBA’s annual conference last month.
Four participants in the program and the superintendents who have worked with them talked about the program’s impact during a panel discussion entitled Kentucky’s Aspiring Superintendents.
School administrators Dr. Ronald Chi, Dr. Diane Hatchett, Cheri Smith and Dr. Geneva A. Stark will in four months complete the two-year program, designed to create a pool of highly qualified minority candidates for Kentucky school superintendent openings. Already, Chi has moved into an assistant superintendent position at Frankfort Independent Schools, and the other three are expected to apply for some of the other expected superintendent vacancies.
(From left) Dr. Ron Chi, Dr. Geneva Stark, Cheri Smith and Dr. Diane Hatchett look over their
PowerPoint presentation for their clinic on the Kentucky Minority Superintendent Internship Program.
In the 12 years the program has been operating, four of 16 participants, called “fellows,” have been hired as superintendents. Program candidates must meet specific criteria and go through rigorous interviews. The number of fellows accepted for the program varies from year to year based on the quality of the candidates.
Increasing diversity among leaders
The idea of the initiative is to more closely align the diversity of school leadership with the diversity of the student body. Currently the gap is wide. Kentucky has three minority superintendents, 1.7 percent, compared with 18.6 percent minority students.
Hatchett pointed out that studies show that a child’s educational experience – from retention of knowledge to graduation rates – improves when minority leadership mirrors the minority student population. “When kids see people like themselves, they do better,” said Hatchett.
In year one, fellows work in their home school district with their superintendent and participate in the Kentucky Association of School Administrators’ Next Generation Superintendent Intern Leadership Series. In year two, they work with a superintendent in a host district. Neither the host or home districts incur any costs for the program.
Praise from host districts
Superintendents who have worked with the current fellows spoke positively about the experience.
Boone County Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Poe admitted that when first approached about hosting Chi, he thought, “I don’t have time for someone to shadow me.” He later learned that “shadowing” is an inaccurate description and that fellows are expected to do meaningful work in their host districts.
As Poe assigned projects to Chi, “He was treated like any other assistant superintendent.”
Among Chi’s achievements were improvements in programming at Boone County’s alternative school, said Poe, adding, “I feel Boone County has received more from the program than it gave to Ron.”
In Daviess County Schools, Superintendent Owens Saylor said having Hatchett on his staff this school year has “added another highly skilled administrator to the team. I learned quickly that she wasn’t going to stand by and watch. It has been an incredible experience for her and for us, and I am invested in where she goes next.”
Russellville Independent Superintendent Leon Smith said Cheri Smith worked with his district on recruitment of minority educators, an important job in a district challenged to attract such candidates. Having supportive home and host school districts is vital to the program, Cheri Smith said. “The home district has to be willing to let you grow, and another district has to be willing to grow you,” she said.
Stark has split her time between Bullitt County and Shelby County districts. Shelby County Schools Superintendent James Neihof said he made sure that Stark was involved in aspects of the job that he was not privy to before he became superintendent. “I made some changes so that Geneva could be right next to me,” he said.
In Bullitt County, Superintendent Keith Davis said Stark has been vital to minority teacher recruitment.
Getting out the word
When the four current fellows realized that many educators still aren’t aware of the internships, they met with state education leaders, including former education commissioner Terry Holliday, to find out how to promote the program. They say their session at KSBA’s conference is their first effort, but it won’t be their last.
“Many people still don’t know the program exists,” said Stark. “School boards hire superintendents so we realized we need to be in front of the school boards.”
“This is a beginning,” said Joe Tinius, retired superintendent of Bowling Green Independent School District and an executive coach for the program. “We needed to start somewhere.”