Prior to being appointed Martin County School District (MCSD) Superintendent in November 2020 you had a distinguished 27-year career in Kentucky public education, the last 14 years as a high-performing superintendent. What similarities and/or differences have you encountered in transitioning from a Kentucky superintendent to a Florida superintendent?
Overall, my transition has been a very smooth one. The job itself and leadership needed by the superintendent is nearly identical and having many years of experience was valuable. The bigger differences have been in understanding the FL funding differences, state school law and navigating the political climate and process.
The most valuable similarity is the critical need to build relationships and connect with your school board members, staff, families, and community. Having a background in education, I have always understood the critical importance of meeting the needs of our students and having a growth mindset for achievement for each school and the district as a whole.
In 2018 Martin County voters chose to move from an elected superintendent to a school board appointed superintendent. What does it mean to you to be the first appointed superintendent?
I feel very honored to be the first appointed superintendent in Martin County. I also feel a huge sense of responsibility to serve our school board, district and community. I see the School Board and our administrative staff as a joint leadership team focusing on the same goals and priorities. This mindset takes a little time to filter through the system, however I feel it has taken hold and improving each month. It takes everyone working together and listening to meet the needs of our community, staff, families, and students.
When asked about your first priority as superintendent you said: “In real estate, it's location. In education, it's relationships, relationships, relationships. So, first and foremost, that’s what we need to do.” What steps have you taken to achieve this goal?
As part of my 30-60-90 entry plan, I set priorities to be highly visible and methodical in visiting schools, meeting with community members and being involved more closely in the day-to-day operations of the district within departments. I have regular standing meetings with various groups to gain input and listen to needs and the progress being made. With the help and support of our school board, admin team, and education foundation, I have implemented the MCSD Leadership and Relationship Development Series that has been an 18-month and on-going process to build a culture of strengths. We have involved Board Members and all district administrators, including principals and assistant principals, to complete the Gallup Strength Finders, participate in Maxwell and Covey training, and our next step will be implementing Lean Six Sigma.
What do you feel is the most challenging barrier currently in meeting the educational needs of students in your district?
As in all districts throughout the country, it is critical that we all clearly communicate and have patience and empathy for each other. There are many special interest groups that have questions and concerns for us to work through. As we transition out of COVD-19, we must be focused on closing any achievement gaps that have occurred and making sure everyone stays focused and moving in the same direction to meet the diverse needs of the entire schools district. In sum, amid all the noise, stay calm and focused on meeting our kid’s educational needs.
What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing public education as a whole?
Across the nation and state, we have to work together for common goals. We must find common ground among differences of opinion to solve issues facing our schools and students. Being able to calmly and carefully sort through all the information, misinformation, and rumors is a challenging, daily task that consumes a lot of time and energy.
What is an innovative/impactful initiative in your school district that you are most proud of during your tenure as a superintendent?
Despite the challenges of COVD-19, we have methodically focused on a consistent and effective district-wide ELA adoption and implementation process this school year. I am proud of the implementation level of our programs and the work being done by our staff, PLC groups, and admin teams to make this happen. I am also proud of the relationship and leadership development work that has occurred to grow leaders and speak a common language.
If you had the ability to change one thing in the realm of public education – what would that be?
I would like for those individuals that seek to divide public education to experience a daily understanding of what truly goes on in the public schools. There are so many challenges and successes being made that are often overlooked or not reported. The teachers and staff do a remarkable job each day serving all of our students from the most vulnerable to the most gifted. I wish all the success stories could be told and known—that would be a game changer.
Outside of being a superintendent, what is something that your colleagues may not know about you that you would like to share.
I love to work out and paint.
Individual you admire most for their positive impact on public education:
Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the quiet, focused teacher just doing the job each and every day!
Book you are currently or recently finished reading:
“Power vs Force” by David R. Hawkins. I also read National Geographic Magazine monthly.
Any additional comments & thoughts you would like to share?
Stay kind as possible—in the end it is the only thing that matters. People will remember how you made them feel regardless of the issue.