Advocate Staff report
A longtime champion of early childhood education and crusader for dropout prevention is the top Kentucky school board member for 2014.
Whitley County school board Chairman Delmar Mahan received the Warren Proudfoot Award for Outstanding School Board Member during the Kentucky School Boards Association’s annual conference in Louisville. The award is given by the Kentucky PTA.
Mahan took office in 1991, just two years after the district was found academically deficient and came under state management. Since then, he has helped lead the district to academic improvement, to additional services for students of all ages and to new and renovated school buildings. The district now ranks in the 86th percentile statewide and its high school is one of only five to be rated distinguished, high progress and high performance.
PHOTO: Whitley County board member Delmar Mahan, second from right, is presented the Warren Proudfoot Award for Outstanding School Board Member by, from left, David Baird, KSBA interim executive director, Durward Narramore, KSBA president and Eddie Esquire, president of the Kentucky PTA, which sponsors the award.
“From day one, Mr. Mahan’s tenure on the board has been about the students of Whitley County and doing everything within his power to improve their quality of life by working to remove many of the educational barriers faced by impoverished students,” his district’s nomination said.
In accepting the award, Mahan shared credit with the board members and administrators with whom he has served. He noted that he was the first in his family to graduate from college and pointed to his three children in the audience – one a dentist, one a Harvard Law School-educated attorney and the other a teacher.
“We’re all products of public education,” he said. “It’s been good to my family. It’s been good to your family. And it will continue to be good to all of our families. We need to keep the emphasis on public education.”
Mahan, who was a member of KSBA’s board of directors before serving as the association’s president from 2009-11, is known for his passionate commitment to keeping kids in school, approaching dropout prevention from all sides.
The Whitley County board decided in the early 1990s to fund five-day, full-day universal preschool, blended with Head Start. The data shows Whitley County students who did not attend preschool are 10 times more likely to drop out of school. At the other end of the spectrum, Mahan has led the board to add, fund and equip programs and extracurricular activities, recognizing, according to the nomination, “that in order to deter some high school students from dropping out, there needed to be opportunities for them to be involved in activities outside the classroom.”
In another vehicle for keeping kids in school, Mahan was a key player in starting school-based day care centers, with priority given to children of high school students. To help remove barriers to learning, he also led the board more than two decades ago to provide free nursing services and free breakfast to students in all Whitley County schools. He also is an active supporter of a community-based effort to provide teens with substance abuse treatment.
Mahan and his fellow board members donate their monthly stipends to a scholarship fund for Whitley County graduates – a fund that has provided more than $32,000 in scholarships to the district’s students.
Facilities and technology
When Mahan took office, the district’s school buildings needed to be replaced or renovated. Since then, four new schools have been built, with a fifth scheduled for groundbreaking this year. Because two of the new schools were created through consolidation of several smaller schools, the projects were not popular in the affected communities. Mahan, the nomination said, “withstood the pressure at the time and worked to bring all stakeholders on board with these projects.”
He also has overseen the addition of a Preschool Center at the district’s largest elementary school, an addition and renovation to two others, construction of a Freshman Academy at the high school and several other renovation projects.
Physical improvements made during Mahan’s tenure extend to technology. Every classroom in the district has had an electronic whiteboard for more than a decade, while the district has a high computer-to-student ratio and was one of the first districts to have digital Internet access and Wi-Fi in all its schools.
Mahan and the Whitley County board established Parents as Volunteer Educators more than 20 years ago, putting parents in the classroom and on field trips helping teachers.
“This program has served as a model for parent involvement statewide and has accounted for literally hundreds of thousands of dollars saved as a result of not hiring more instructional assistants,” his nomination said.
Mahan is a familiar face at school open houses, parent-teacher conference nights and reading and math nights throughout the district.
“Delmar is a highly visible school board member. He is involved with all phases of our district from the classroom, to extracurricular activities to athletic events,” Oak Grove Elementary school council parent member Tammy Brown wrote in support of the nomination.
His public education advocacy during his service to KSBA is also echoed at home, where he is a frequent guest speaker on state and district education topics at gatherings of local civic and business groups.