Rob Clayton was chosen unanimously this week by the Warren County Board of Education to become the next superintendent of the public school district. He comes from South Oldham Middle School in Crestwood, Kentucky where he served as principal the past seven years. Lisa Autry spoke with him.
What attracted you to this job?
I was mainly attracted to the position because of the people, the quality of the students, staff, and school community. There's a tremendous reputation out there in the state that's certainly well-deserved and I was aware the school board was committed to high levels of achievement and continuous improvement. That certainly gives me great confidence in our ability to excel.
You just completed your 20th year in education. Talk about how your past experiences brought you to where you are today.
I began in 1993 as a high school science teacher and coached football and track and field at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in Jefferson County. I was attracted to being a teacher primarily because previous teachers I had and their influence on me. I feel fortunate to be able to say that I've rarely worked a day in my life in education because I truly enjoy working with kids, watching them grow, and helping them find the opportunities I think all kids deserve. Most recently, I've had the opportunity to be have a larger influence on my students from an administrative standpoint (as principal of South Oldham Middle School).
Are you a Kentucky native?
I am. I was born in Bardstown, Kentucky and graduated from Nelson County High School and been here 42 years. Time flies, but I've been here the whole time.
Do you think living in Kentucky all this time has been advantageous to you in terms of seeing the evolution of education in this state?
It's interesting. In 1993 when I graduated from college, KERA was in its infancy stages and knew little about it as an educator coming, then we saw NCLB goals in the early 2000s. Now we are implementing Senate Bill 1. What I will tell you, there's been significant changes, but these changes are what's best for kids. I have a strong belief that accountability is critical to our success and Senate Bill 1 outlines several parameters that are expectations for our students and schools and I'm confident we're headed in the right direction.
You have said you want to focus on three goals, and that's assuring the safety of students, assuring that students are learning at a high level, and assuring that all students who graduate from Warren County schools are college and career ready. College and career ready has been a major focus of Commissioner Holliday. How do we make that happen?
It starts with two things: improving the instructional capacity of our teachers and staff and the leadership capacity of our administrators and teacher leaders. We have to being with our curriculum, what we're asking our students to learn and understand. From there, you look at the instruction occurring in the classroom and how we evaluate we evaluate that instruction. It's about emphasizing those 21st century skills. It's important that when our students graduate that they not only have basic understanding of key concepts in each content area, but that they're able to critically think and problem solve, communicate, and certainly in the 21st century we're talking about media and technology skills. All those pieces, like a puzzle, must fit together to ensure all our kids are college and career ready.
Many school districts are anxious to raise the dropout age locally starting next month when a new state law takes effect. Is that something you're going to push in Warren County?
From my standpoint, higher accountability, higher expectations will always going to be good for our kids, so I'm for raising the dropout age. The big thing for me is what we're doing with the kids while we have them. It's my goal that every student in Warren County schools will want to complete the 12th grade and so dropping out doesn't become an issue. The key to that is transforming what the educational system looks like. We need our educational system to meet the needs of all of our students. It's really up to us as adults to make the accommodations and adjustments to engage all of our students.
How does a school system handle those students who truly don't want to be in school and are a risk to other students' education?
If we have students who don't want to be in our school system, thern we need to look at what we're offering. If we're offering what our kids need, they'll want to be in school. I think when you talk about students not wanting to be in school, it's really more about what that school looks like. It's not meeting their needs. Now this is challenging because we have students that come to us every day with different aptitudes, different motivational levels, different challenges before them. If we do our job and build those positive relationships they seek out, they'll want to be at school, and we have to own that responsibility.
Is there anything you want to change or implement right away as the incoming superintendent?
The thing I want to do is a lot of listening, and I've already started that process. I think dialogue with our students, parents, staff and community members is critical to understanding the strengths, challenges, and needs of our school system.
You may not want to wade into this now, but I wanted to get your thoughts on the current controversy regarding enrollment caps between the city and county school systems.
Unfortunately at this time, I haven't had the opportunity to learn all the facts nor ask the right questions of the right people. I've very familiar with the concerns out there, and I can tell you this community is fortunate to have two outstanding school districts. I certainly look forward to working with our board and reaching out to Mr. Tinius of Bowling Green Independent and developing a positive relationship as I do with all superintendents. We're all in this together trying to achieve the same common goal, and that's making decisions about what's best for our kids and providing them multiple opportunities while improving the quality of education for our kids.