Advocate Staff Report
When it comes to his list of accomplishments as Corbin Independent Schools' superintendent, Ed McNeel is lauded as a man of firsts: one of southeastern Kentucky's first superintendents to create a school safety hotline, a freshman center, alternative school, early childhood center, homework hotline, and a position for public relations, among other successes.
For these accomplishments and many others, McNeel is this year's recipient of the F.L. Dupree Outstanding Superintendent Award. The award is sponsored by the family of F.L. Dupree Sr., administered by the Kentucky School Boards Association and judged by previous recipients. It was presented during KSBA’s annual conference in Louisville.
PHOTO: Corbin Independent Schools Superintendent Ed McNeel, second from left, is presented the F.L. Dupree Outstanding Superintendent Award by, from left, David Baird, KSBA interim executive director, Tom Dupree, grandson of the award's namesake, and Durward Narramore, KSBA president.
McNeel paid tribute to his family, staff and the 16 school board members he has worked with in the district.
“This is 22 years in Corbin, and I could not be there right now if I did not have board members working closely with the superintendent, developing a trusting relationship to do the right things for kids. It does not happen when there’s strife, arguing and bickering,” he said.
McNeel summed up his vision for conference attendees: “That every child that leaves a high school has attended that high school because they wanted to go to high school. And the only reason you want to go to high school is because somebody cares about them, and they’ve been involved in something that grabs them and makes them want to go to school.”
McNeel has been an educator for 49 years, in both Kentucky and West Virginia, and his passion for serving students remains strong.
“Although he is currently the longest actively serving superintendent in a Kentucky school district, he has the same love of students and zeal for student achievement as the day he started teaching science in an inner-city school in Huntington, W.Va.," wrote school board Chairwoman Kimberly Croley. "Every decision he makes is student-centered and student-focused.”
In nominating McNeel, who became superintendent in 1992, Corbin school officials refer to him as visionary, noting that many of the programs started under his leadership are now considered standard practice, not just in Corbin, but in other school districts. He has supported family literacy programs, implementation of family resource and youth services centers, expanded learning opportunities beyond the regular school day, and enrichment and remediation programs.
McNeel was praised in his nomination for fostering better relationships with students and staff, giving each group a voice in the areas that impact them. He regularly meets with students to discuss programs and services. Students were instrumental in deciding what advanced placement classes the high school would offer, as well as other course offerings to help students prepare for postsecondary education.
Corbin High School senior Lyndsey Noland referred to McNeel as “an overachiever” when it comes to student welfare.
"He makes sure that every student has a great school to attend and be proud of. The classrooms are bigger (due to renovations), and the technological devices we are provided with are outstanding," she wrote. "This year, Corbin High School was opened to dual-credit and online classes. Each online classroom was provided with iPads to complete the course. I can’t express how thankful I am for being given the opportunity to achieve college credit while in high school.”
2013 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Kristal Doolin, said the support she receives at Corbin Middle School is on a different scale than her experience in other districts.
“Early in my time in this district, I remember being shocked because the level of support given to teachers was unlike anything I’d experienced. I was blown away that I could email Mr. McNeel with ideas and requests," she wrote. "He did and still does respond personally, visits my classroom often and encourages me in every endeavor.
“Being state Teacher of the Year is without a doubt the highlight of my career, but the real reward is when I am at a meeting, conference or ceremony and someone inevitably says, ‘So you’re from Corbin … how is Ed McNeel? I’ve worked with Ed for years. He’s doing great things, isn’t he? He sure is proud of you!’ My heart swells every time.”
One of McNeel's first acts upon becoming superintendent was to make regular visits with staff at each school. He changed the established principal meetings to team meetings, which created a more open atmosphere and involved more staff. He is credited with expanding educational opportunities for faculty and staff and providing financial incentives for more teachers to become nationally board certified.
He also is known both inside and outside his district for his leadership and vision.
“He is a role model for instructional leadership for district leaders across the Commonwealth," wrote David Johnson, former Harlan Independent superintendent and current executive director of the Southeast/South-Central Educational Cooperative. "He remains current on educational and instructional reform efforts and, in fact, is often on the cutting edge of school improvement … after 21 successful years in the same district, Ed is still looking for ways to improve and better serve his students. I have watched him challenge the status quo and press for innovation when current practice falls short of his expectations. And the results are obvious as Corbin is consistently one of the state’s academic leaders in multiple measures.”
His attention to academic excellence has led to district growth in each of the past 11 years, despite the area losing several key employers. Student enrollment has grown from 1,900 when he took over to nearly 3,000 this year.
“Our district is a good place to work because of his leadership," said Assistant Superintendent Dave Cox. “This model is set from the top and I see the same type of leadership in our principals, as well. In my opinion, this is most certainly because of his way of doing things from the superintendent’s position.”