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KSBA News Article

Beyond the Board

Beyond the Board

Stephanie Spires, Fayette County school board member

Kentucky School Advocate
January 2021

You were appointed to the Fayette County board in 2017 and then ran for election. Why did you want to serve?
I have fostered or provided respite to more than 40 kids over the past 10 years, and I’ve always tried to keep these kids at their home schools. When the board opportunity became available, I realized there was probably no one who had as much experience with as many different schools in Fayette County as I had. I had also worked with homeless kids through Arbor Youth Services. And, the outcome of the 2016 election had me concerned for kids.

What drove your passion for fostering?
My mom’s parents passed away when she was 10, and a relative took her in and adopted her. My dad was a Presbyterian minister in Kentucky who served on boards for several children’s homes and he would drag me to those board meetings. What put me over the edge was when I worked as an adviser for House leadership in the General Assembly and we would get 2-3 letters a day from parents who threatened not to vote for their representative if they didn’t get their child back by Election Day. After working with these parents, I called and signed us up for fostering. I never planned to do it this long but it took six years to adopt our oldest daughter so my now ex-husband and I had to hang out as foster parents to get her through it.  

One of your accomplishments has been to build up the educational foundation for your district. Why was that important and how is it going?
Most of our benchmark cities have a foundation to provide additional financial support for programming and initiatives. I realized we had people who wanted to give but who had no vehicle to do so including retired educators who would tell me, “I’d like to do some planned giving but have no way to do that.” I spent about two years researching foundations. We have put a committee together and it has gotten our foundation board in place. They told me recently that they think they can raise $1 million in first year. The board has hired an executive director and is going through strategic planning.

You’ve worked in the General Assembly, testified with KSBA on legislation and, as board chair, hosted many meetings with your local legislators. Why should board members and their legislators stay in close contact?It is important for boards to set legislative priorities and to be present in Frankfort. Our board also attends committee hearings, chamber dinners and legislative previews so we are familiar faces to our legislators.

Each year, we invite our representatives to a luncheon at our tech school. We lay out our priorities and invite them to ask us questions. We remind them that the chairperson and superintendent speak for our district, give them our numbers and encourage them to call if they have questions. Our legislators have to make so many decisions on so many topics, and they need people they can trust. As a board member, you are the front line. Our legislators in Fayette County know to pick up the phone and call me.

During this school year you have been inundated with constituent calls and messages while helping your own children with virtual classes and working your own job. How have you balanced all of these demands?  

I don't know that I have. (laughs) You have to give yourself and your children grace and realize we will be OK. Our health, physical and mental, are most important. I have tried to push the mental health message. I want parents to know there are mental health experts in every school, not just for students but for families.

Getting to know
Profession: Coach and consultant for foster and adoptive families and organizations that support them including churches, school districts and nonprofits. (fosterandadoptionsupport.com)

Hometown: Knoxville, Tenn., and Corbin

Family: Daughters Raylee, 10; Mia, 8; and Lauryn, 6; son Onix, 6

Favorite subject in school: Social studies

Hobbies: Reading, writing, traveling and, in theory, playing tennis

Book recommendation for board members: “Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family/School Partnerships” by Anne T. Henderson. Our superintendent, Manny Caulk, died in December. This was the first book he chose for his Manny’s Book Club.

Interesting fact: I’ve fostered or provided respite for more than 40 children. Many people don’t understand how to provide services to these children. I’m working on curriculum for churches and finishing up a book.

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