All in a Day's Work
School Superintendent stays busy with school visits, strategic meetings, long-range planning, and more
Hopkins County Schools Superintendent Deanna Ashby starts her work day early. Well before the sun rises, she is emailing assignments to employees and responding to others who have asked for direction.
“You lay out your plans,” she said. “You try to start planning for what you’re doing during the day.”
Events of the day often intervene, however, causing changes to her daily plans. However, the overall mission and responsibilities remain the same.
“We want to make sure that our teachers are prepared with the resources that they need,” Ashby said. “The supports that we give them are going to impact every child’s desk. We want to make sure that from a district standpoint we’re providing the supports that they need.”
The day-to-day responsibilities of a superintendent include developing long-range plans consistent with population trends and community needs; providing for the optimum use of staff; following appropriate budgetary procedures; safeguarding all district assets; and maintaining a liaison with community groups, other school districts and the state and federal departments of education.
“For me, education truly is a mission field,” Ashby said. “One Team, One Mission, One Community truly is what I stand for. It’s what I went into education for. It is about servant leadership. It is our responsibility to love, protect and educate our kids. That may mean helping a single mom or dad, it may be taking the time to walk the parents through some of the paperwork that we have to do, it may be trying to help faculty and staff see things from a parent standpoint.”
“I’ve been very blessed that while I’ve been superintendent and held other administrative roles, I’ve always been a parent,” she said. “I get those calls that come home. I get those Friday folders. I get those newsletters. I do see things from a parent standpoint. That’s something I never want to lose.”
She talks to other parents to find out what frustrates them about the school district.
“It may be something that’s a blind spot for us, and I want to improve on our customer service to make things easier for them,” she said.
Assistant Superintendent Charles Gant has noticed that Ashby tries to empathize with parents.
“In meetings with parents, she would always say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and be sincere,” he said. “Then, she would start working on the issue. So, I started doing that. It really makes a difference when the people that are having the issues know that you sincerely care and that we are going to work together to solve it.”
Ashby’s schedule includes school visits, administrative meetings, and dealing with the day-to-day happenings in the district.
“I spend a lot of time attending regional and state meetings,” she said. “We belong to two regional educational cooperatives. Staying on top of all the pending legal changes that may be coming down the pike is a very, very important part of the job. It takes you away from the district, but you need to be there at the table when those decisions are made. You need to be at the table to listen, to gain information, and to be able to pass that on to your employees.”
Board of Education member Suzanne Duncan said, “Mrs. Ashby sets the standard high for herself and everyone around her. She is definitely her toughest critic and continually strives to improve. Ms. Ashby has a gift of holding people accountable while still building personal relationships. She has a heart for people and leads by example. There isn't a job that she would ask someone to do that she isn't willing to do as well. “
Ashby’s school visits are sometimes focused on a specific facilities issue or concern. She does classroom walkthroughs to observe learning and teaching. She may go to a school to talk to the principal about feedback from the TELL Kentucky or Employee Engagement surveys, or other issues. She also makes a point to visit the bus garage and the maintenance building to connect with other district operations.
Her favorite ways to spend time with kids are reading to them in the classroom or hanging out with them in the gym before school starts.
“I miss being in a building with kids,” she said. “That’s really where my heart is. Sometimes in a district position, you can get all wrapped up in the day-to-day operations and you are not always afforded the opportunity to be out with the kids because of time constraints.”
While school finance is a big issue, it’s rarely discussed when she is in a school.
“I try to deal with that from the administrative side,” Ashby said. “When I’m with teachers, faculty and staff, I really want to talk about learning and instruction because that’s really where my passion is.”
A big initiative this year is strategic planning with Studer Education.
“The beauty of this process is that it gives not only employees but also parents and community members the opportunity to tell us anonymously what we’re doing well and how we can improve,” she said. “We will take that information for what we’re going to be doing five years down the road, and what Hopkins County residents really want our future to look like.”
This article appears in the 2018 Madisonville-Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce Magazine.