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In Conversation With ... Randy Poe

Randy Poe

Kentucky School Advocate
November 2020

In Conversation With features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate. After Randy Poe retired in June as superintendent of Boone County Schools, he became executive director of the nonprofit Northern Kentucky Education Council and was appointed to the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE).

Q. You are one of two former superintendents on the state board of education – both you and Chairwoman Lu Young were named superintendents of the year. How will your experience as a superintendent of the state’s third-largest school district guide your decisions as a KBE member?

A.
When I was superintendent, I tried to look at my role through the eyes of the students and individuals who were my coworkers, whether it was a teacher, a bus driver, a custodian, a cafeteria worker. How do the policies that I’m working with affect them? That is my goal at the state board level too. I’m trying to look through the eyes of the individuals, the community members we serve. Is everything just and does it work for the benefit of the children and the adults within our system? So, the experience of working within the district helps me look at it from all angles. The role of superintendent is to try and make the best decisions for all those concerned as a system, not as an individual. This is going to be a new role for me, being on the other side of the table as opposed to someone inside the system itself.

Q. It seems you would also have a clear understanding of how decisions made at the state level will be perceived and received by districts.

A. A benefit of having been a superintendent is having empathy, knowing how these decisions are going to play out in different scenarios because you have been there. Being a former superintendent allows people to see things from multiple perspectives. Many forget about that because they are looking at decision making from the eyes of one individual versus multiple constituents.

My mom was a cook and cafeteria manager and my dad was a custodian, so at the dinner table I learned about all the roles in the educational system.

Q. Your first KBE meeting coincided with the first meeting of the KBE’s first student ex-officio member. As superintendent you also had a student board member who led a student advisory council. Why is it important for education policy makers to hear from students?

A.
I was deputy superintendent when we established a student representative in Boone County over 20 years ago. We were the first district to do so. The student board representative led the student advisory council meetings, which included a representative from every school. That student advisory council helped me with a lot of things. I met with them monthly. The decisions we make affect the students and we need to have them tell us how that affects them. If we treat students as adults, they respond accordingly and give us good advice. Over time we handled major issues and solved lots of situations by listening to students.

Q. The new commissioner of education has asked Kentuckians to tell him what Kentucky schools should stop doing, keep doing and start doing. What is one thing you believe we should stop doing, keep doing and start doing?

A. We need to stop our over reliance on the finite game of state assessment. I believe in accountability, but we now have partial accountability through our assessments. What we should start doing is emphasize deeper learning and build an accountability system that assesses multiple areas, not just one or two. When we overemphasize partial accountability we lose out on some great things that we should be teaching that fall outside the current areas of assessment like the arts, which some have cut back on because it is not in the assessment system.

And we should keep taking care of the whole child and provide an equitable opportunity for all children. In the last accountability system, access and opportunity were built into the assessment system but got eliminated because they were difficult to measure. Just because it is difficult to do doesn’t mean we shouldn't be doing it.

Q.  Your first KBE meeting focused on changes that will be made to the state’s accountability system as a result of Senate Bill 158. What do you see as the future of statewide assessment and accountability in Kentucky?

A.
In the area of accountability, I think the commissioner is on track. He proposed at that first meeting, stage one, two and three. Stage two was how do we align with the senate bill – how do we bring assessment in line? The bill was the legislature’s way to say we need to focus on a few more things and focus differently than the current assessment does. But in doing stage two, what I like and is in line with my philosophy, is ‘What should we start looking at as far as deeper learning and different ways to assess deeper learning so that our accountability system is a rich system, so we start adapting to the world and how we line up on an international level?’ The current assessment system is not holding us accountable to what we are being measured against, which is how well we are doing at being globally competitive.

Boone County, along with Kenton County Schools, opened the Ignite Academy in 2019, a high school that blends career and technical education with project-based learning to teach students skill in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Students can graduate with an associate degree and/or a workforce certification. 

 

Q. When you retired in June, you had been Boone County superintendent for 12 years and were one of the longest-serving superintendents in the state. Why did you decide it was time to retire?

A. 
We were heading into an initiative to create our five-year strategic plan and I knew I probably wouldn’t be serving for another five years. I felt it was time to infuse new blood into the system and have someone be there to carry out that plan at the beginning rather than two to three years in.

The opportunity came up with the Northern Kentucky Education Council and also to go back to my roots in teaching as an adjunct professor at Northern Kentucky University. So this was an opportunity to hand off the baton but still stay involved and work with the seven counties that we represent in the education council, to advocate for education and to teach. It gives me the chance to refresh and recharge and take experiences I have had and hopefully pass them on to future leaders.

Q. Tell us about your role as the Northern Kentucky Education Council executive director and the council’s mission?

A. 
The council is a catalyst for collaboration, change and progress to obtain regional educational goals in Boone, Kenton, Campbell, Gallatin, Grant, Owen and Pendleton counties. Years ago there were P-20 councils across the state; we are the last one. The council aligns with our post-secondary schools – NKU, Thomas More and Gateway – our K-12 schools and local businesses. We seek grants for educational initiatives that will improve the quality of education and community standards. We work with organizations, for example, with the United Way and the YMCA to enhance the quality of preschools and early education initiatives. Our four coalitions advance the big picture of education, advocate for education in Frankfort and in the region, reduce barriers to education and engage business in college and career prep.

We find out from business what they can support and then we work with the educational community on what we can deliver. We work together as a community.

Q. What are some examples of the council’s impact?

A.
In reading and math, we have served over 5,000 students one-to-one. We’ve given out over 10,000 books so students could increase their home libraries and we have 250 businesses engaged in our schools through business support. If we weren’t showing results we wouldn’t be getting the business support. We have invested over $4 million back into the community in the last 10 years.

Q. Many newly elected board members will take their seats in January. What advice to you have for current board members and superintendents on making the new members feel part of the team?

A. 
After the election, meet and welcome them. As a district, you should have created a good onboarding program for new board members. Also utilize the information outlined by KSBA on key roles of a school board member. You should talk about how a board is a learning organization and that as a school board member one of your biggest roles is being a community builder and an advocate for schools. Emphasize that we are going to have open communication, dialogue and address concerns together and that if we function as a team, we are going to be successful.

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