Unsung Heroes

Superintendents’ administrative assistants are part of the team

Kentucky School Advocate
November 2015

By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff Writer 

Nancy Simmons, who works in superintendent support services for Mercer County Schools, has adopted a slogan that originated elsewhere: “My job is to make your job easier.”

By extension, the job of the Kentucky Organization of Superintendents’ Administrative Assistants is to make Simmons’ job easier. The organization, now approaching its 10th year, was formed under KSBA’s auspices initially as a way to improve communication with superintendents, using the key role of their administrative assistants. However, it quickly evolved into professional development that mirrors the system set up for school board member training.

Simmons is one of three KOSAA members who have never missed any of the group’s meetings. Whenever she returns from a KOSAA meeting, said Mercer County Schools Superintendent Dennis Davis, “We talk about what she’s learned and if we need to do something different or if we have to adjust some things. It’s been very valuable.”

Simmons said she enjoys the organization’s camaraderie, but notes, “You’re in a frame of mind for learning when you get there.”

While Simmons is a longtime member, Betty Joe Neeley, Owsley County Schools’ secretary to the superintendent, attended her first meeting this year. “It’s really a good thing because I’ve been learning so much,” she said of her first KOSAA session. “With the other superintendents’ administrative assistants at the meetings, they can give you some insight and ideas on some things.”

Mercer County Superintendent Dennis Davis said Nancy Simmons, who works in superintendent support services, helps the board negotiate the intricacies of state regulations.

KOSAA’s first meeting in January 2006 drew 52 people; membership currently is up to 168. Two years ago, the organization was opened up to other central office administrative assistants and education cooperative administrative assistants, said Kim Barker-Burton, KSBA senior policy consultant and eMeeting manager, who works with the group.

KOSAA gathers twice a year in conjunction with KSBA events: Summer Leadership Institute and Annual Conference. Smaller groups of members also meet during the association’s Fall Regional Meetings.

Training sessions initially focused on Open Meetings and Open Records laws, and KSBA services. The scope of the training has widened, tailored to what the members say they need, Barker-Burton said.

“They want more information on technology, they want more information on working with your board members. They also want interactive, hands-on learning activities,” in addition to the basics, she said.

Training also has included sessions on time management, team building, superintendent evaluations, policy updates, records retention, confidentiality, social media, and eMeeting, KSBA’s paperless board meeting service. Besides the KSBA policy staff, training also has been provided by association staff from other units, including communications and legal services. The group also has a mentoring program.

Courses are structured in a Professional Assistants Academy to advance members along different levels of training, similar to KSBA’s Academy of Studies for school board members.

Differing duties
The responsibilities of a superintendent’s administrative assistant vary by district, Barker-Burton noted. Some, like Neeley and Simmons, also serve as secretaries to the board of education, attending meetings and taking the minutes.

“Our board relies on her tremendously, for getting them information, taking down things. The board considers her a key member of their support team,” Davis said of Simmons. Simmons said working at the board meetings enables her to know the details of what’s going on in the district “and the issues we’re facing.”

Four KOSAA members were recognized recently for perfect attendance at the group’s meetings; from left, KOSAA President Lanetta Shive of Metcalfe County; Sandy Jupin, Boyle County; Paula McCracken, Russell Independent; and Nancy Simmons, Mercer County. Shive, Jupin and Simmons have not missed a meeting since the group was formed in 2006; McCracken has had perfect attendance since joining a year later.

She and Neeley also are their district’s policy liaison with KSBA. “I love learning what’s in the policy book and where to find it,” Simmons said, “because at a moment’s notice, people will walk in here and say, do we have a policy on such-and-such.”

The Owsley County board uses KSBA’s eMeeting paperless board meeting service, and Neeley, like many others in her position, is the eMeeting manager. Simmons’ job is a bit different in that she handles personnel duties for Mercer County Schools.

“Nancy does a wonderful job of keeping us right on all the regulations, the right way to post and everything in that part,” Davis said. Simmons, who has worked for five superintendents over 20 years, also has reached out to human resources staff in other districts in her area to form a Personnel Consortium.

Owsley County Superintendent Tim Bobrowski was the speaker for KOSAA’s summer meeting and cited the ways administrative assistants are “vitally important to your survival” as a superintendent.

Using Neeley as his example, he listed the traits of a good assistant, including dependability, loyalty, thoughtfulness, excellent communication skills, ability to multitask and stay organized and pride in the work.

Neeley, who had worked for a variety of administrators in the central office before retiring, now works three days a week for Bobrowski. He said when he stepped into his job, he knew Neeley had worked there before, but said, “I was just amazed at how many things she knew about,” ranging from the routine to the complex.

“I’ve told her this before – ‘If you ever leave me, I will resign.’ I feel that confident in her ability to do the job,” Bobrowski said. 

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