Owensboro banker, head of GE Louisville appliance distribution center honored by KBE for business support of schools

KDE news release

The Kentucky Board of Education presented the 14th annual Joseph W. Kelly Award to two business leaders who are actively engaged in making a difference in their local schools.

Darrell Higginbotham, president of Independence Bank in Owensboro and Mark Shirkness, the general manager of General Electric (GE) Appliances Distribution Services in Louisville, were both on hand to receive their awards.

“Kentucky is fortunate to have the involvement of the business community in P-12 public education,” Kentucky Board of Education Chair Roger Marcum said. “The support provided, as evidenced by these two individuals, is invaluable in helping Kentucky reach its educational goals.”

The Kelly award is given to businesspeople who offer outstanding leadership and service toward promoting school improvement and equitable educational opportunities for all Kentucky children.

In his nomination letter, Daviess County Superintendent Owens Saylor and Assistant Superintendent Matt Robbins wrote of Higginbotham’s involvement as a charter member of the Foundation for Daviess Co. Public Schools, “His vision and contributions have guided the Foundation in attaining and allocating resources to enhance learning opportunities for students and our community. Darrell has worked tirelessly to solicit funds for the many projects sponsored by the Foundation, always with the belief that quality education is the best investment we can make in our children and their future.”

The Foundation serves a vital role in encouraging business and individual support to fund schools’ “wish lists” for the direct benefit of children.

In addition, under Higginbotham’s leadership, Independence Bank has partnered with the RiverPark Center, a local performing arts venue, and worked with school family resource and youth services centers to provide vouchers to low-income families so students can attend Broadway performances and kid-friendly, educational programming. Higginbotham’s goal is to “enhance educational opportunities in recognition of studies that have demonstrated students with access to arts education tend to achieve higher education levels and performance.”

Higginbotham also:

• has pledged his financial support to ensure the district’s “Leader in Me” Program continues and expands.

• is spearheading a partnership of local public school districts and community partners to improve childhood literacy and kindergarten readiness.

• initiated an annual project in which Independence Bank provides baskets of apples and notes as encouragement to teachers each fall.

• provides funding for several local scholarships and support for community agencies serving children and families.

In the letter nominating Shirkness, Dave Calzi, chair of the Business Leaders for Education in Louisville, described him as “a tireless supporter of education for several decades.” Shirkness has been actively involved in the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS).

“Regardless of his busy work schedule, Mark always makes the time to share his leadership and passion with our community. He has been an avid collaborator who rallied other business leaders behind the JCPS district, interjecting GE volunteers in many areas of the education system to drive support and improvement. He is a strong ambassador for our public schools and our community at-large.”

As part of his work with the Jefferson County Public School Foundation, Shirkness created and secured funding for the Act Now Program, which delivered Advanced Placement training for all JCPS high school English teachers. He also is active with the JCPS/Ford Next Generation Learning Initiative, which mobilizes educators, employers and community leaders to create a new generation of young people who will graduate from high school both college and career ready. He also has been involved with the Close the Deal program, an initiative that helps build a college-going culture in high schools.

Shirkness served as the GE Education Volunteers Chair, and has been involved in creating mentoring, externship and test prep programs; advocating for college and career readiness and Common Core State Standards; and is a key liaison for developing future grants. Additionally, he is heavily involved with the $35 million GE grant awarded to JCPS, and has helped facilitate some of the sessions at the annual GE Foundation Business Leadership Summit.

“Mark’s volunteerism is exemplary with countless hours dedicated to students and education initiatives,” said JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens. “He mentors students and provides externships to the public school system which prepare our students for the workforce. Additionally, his contribution as a member of the Ford Next Generation Learning and GE Foundation initiatives has been an excellent resource to our school district.”

The Kelly Award was created in honor of Joseph W. Kelly, a respected businessman and chair of the Kentucky Board of Education from 1991 to 1998. Kelly’s efforts and expertise were crucial to the implementation and nurturing of Kentucky’s school improvement efforts.

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