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Beyond the Board

Beyond the Board

Julie Smith-Morrow, Newport Independent Schools

Kentucky School Advocate
September 2021

You’ve been on the Newport Independent board for 14 years. Why did you want to serve on the school board?  

I had met Molly Wesley, a family resource center coordinator here, in 2005 and through her, learned about challenges kids in Newport face. Through the Freestore Food Bank in Cincinnati, where I had a leadership role, I started programs for them like Kids’ Café and Power Pack. We served counties on both sides of the river so I knew firsthand what the people we served were going through. I realized education’s importance in helping people attain a better quality of life.

There was a mid-term vacancy on the school board. I had never thought about running for office, but I did what I’ve done for years, I held up my hand and volunteered. After some of the hardest interviews I’ve ever had, I was appointed.

Why did you decide to run again in 2020?

For one, we had a new superintendent, and I believed my experience and commitment would be important in guiding and supporting him. And, we were in the middle of the pandemic. I believed having a seasoned board member like me would be important during such a challenging time.

You’ve lived in at least five states and in Puerto Rico. What brought you to Newport?

My husband was faculty member at Texas Tech’s Health Sciences Center and was offered a job in the Cincinnati area with Meridian Bioscience in 2003. I was executive director of Goodwill Industries in Lubbock but was not opposed to making a change. It felt more comfortable on this side of the river. We liked the vibe. People felt warm and welcoming, and we started getting involved in the community.Your career focused on improving the lives of others through work at Goodwill, Freestore and Dress for Success. Why did you decide to make serving others your career?

Even though my Ph.D. was in plant molecular genetics the work I did on crop improvement allowed people to take better care of themselves. I got involved volunteering with the food bank in Lubbock and developed programs there, then was recruited by Goodwill Industries. When we moved, there were no leadership openings at Goodwill here but about 18 months later, a position opened up at Freestore. People served by the three organizations I worked for are the same people no matter what city you are in. Lack of education and job skills really, really hurts.

You also served on the board of directors for Gateway Community and Technical College. How did that work inform your K-12 board service?

I could advocate for more opportunities for kids in Newport and throughout the area. I wanted to push for more dual credit opportunities and for more outreach to help students and families feel more comfortable pursuing education and training after high school. I think Kentucky has a wonderful community and technical college system, and I would rather see our graduates get the skills and training to become a diesel mechanic or a certified electrician than work in fast food.Since you retired, you’ve become a professional genealogist. Why did you choose this as your next career?

It goes back to my science background because it involves research and history. I’m very much into genetic history. I’m taking a lot of courses again. I’ve completed a certificate in American records, taken other courses online and have attended genealogical institutes. I have had a lot of client work but have put that on hold for now as I want to focus on our families, mine and my husband’s, and also on becoming the best professional I can be.

Getting to know

Profession: Retired scientific researcher and nonprofit leader; professional genealogist

Hometown: Minneapolis

Family: Husband, John Morrow, a technical writer for biotech; three sons: Jesse, Erik and Brett Jorgensen; four grandchildren  

Favorite subject in school: In high school, English literature; in graduate school, genetics  

Hobbies: Landscape and flower gardening and cooking

Book recommendation for board members: “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell. It really spoke to me about the importance of authentic communication. Our school board teams need to be honest, doing it in a good way that facilitates understanding.

Interesting fact: I never considered running for elected office, probably because I lacked self-confidence. But I got so involved in working on behalf of children that I forgot about not feeling confident. Now, I’ve been through five election cycles, and I think, ‘Wow, I like campaigning. I like it a lot.’ It’s great to go out door to door. I think it is something for everyone to think about, that you can be a lot more confident, if it’s not about you, but it’s about who you are trying to help.

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