Skinner credits team work as key to Williamstown’s success

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By Bryan Marshall

Sitting in on a second-grade classroom, it didn’t take long for Williamstown Superintendent Sally Skinner to remember a special moment she shared with one of the students.

“In kindergarten, one day, nobody could come for Grandparents’ Day, and I got to be your grandma,” she said, smiling, to the young boy. “That was fun. I still have your picture in my office.”

Skinner, who was awarded the Excellence in Education award at the 2012 Grant County Chamber of Commerce banquet, has many fond memories with countless students.

Recently, she sat at her desk in her office signing the diplomas she will proudly watch this year’s senior class receive during graduation ceremonies May 25.

A few weeks ago, Skinner listened as those same seniors presented their exit projects to her and others on the district administrative team.

Hearing how the students’ high school experience shaped them and what their post-secondary plans were was something Skinner cherishes.

“It’s very satisfying to see children grow and turn into these wonderfully polite, smart, young men and women,” she said. “I just love to see them come in like they would be going on a job interview. It’s a culminating experience for me.”

The 57-year-old has been at Williamstown Independent since 1998 and has served as director of special education, assistant to the superintendent and assistant superintendent before being named superintendent in 2009.

Skinner credits her predecessors Charles Ed Wilson and Cliff Wallace in helping pathe the way for the success she has had during her tenure.

The district recently received full accreditation by AdvancED in an exhaustive evaluation process, a feat not many districts can claim.

This year also brought to fruition a technology initiative that enabled five teachers to utilize iPad’s in their classrooms.

By all accounts, the tablets have been a rousing success so far, said Skinner.

“Like any resource, it’s all about the teacher training,” Skinner said. “We were very careful in the beginning to make sure that the teachers who were going to place these in their classrooms had all the training that they needed. If they were sitting there locked up all day, what would be the point having them? The kids have really blossomed with them. The teachers are doing a great job utilizing them into everyday instruction.”

Skinner hopes the district will be able to expand the Ipads into all classrooms eventually, but finances are a factor.

She would like to have one in each grade level and in each content area before school starts next year.

“My ultimate goal we’d like to work on is for kids to bring their own device,” Skinner said. “If textbooks go to iPad’s or Kindle or whatever, every kids going to have to one soon. That will take the place of books.”

Next year, Williamstown likely will do a district-wide fundraiser to raise money for technology .

Another initiative started by Skinner and her staff this year is a Superintendents’ Advisory Council.

Representatives from councils at about 20 high schools in northern Kentucky meet monthly to discuss issues.

“They talk about issues and how they can solve them,” Skinner said. “We’ve listened to kids for a long time, but we’ve never flipped it back on them and said, well, what are some ideas you have to solve a problem.”

Eventually, Skinner would like to set up a similar group with middle schools students.

The advisory council, which wanted to tackle bullying in middle school, now meets with sixth, seventh and eighth graders in small groups for mentoring.

“We’ve laid some groundwork at the end of the year so we can fly it next year,” Skinner said.

As she looks to the future, Skinner said she sees the landscape of education changing.

From standards-based report cards to a college and career-readiness focus, high school will look different than it has in the past.

“What we’re going to try to do is to create a report card that pulls out compliance pieces like if you turned your homework in on time,” Skinner said. “We want to go to something that actually tells parents what their children can do around these standards. They’ll be told whether they got all their homework in and whether they made an A on it, but it may not be figured in to the actual grade.

If some students can pass out of certain requirements and graduate early, then maybe they will have two more years where they can still stay in a high school environment, but take college classes to earn credits, Skinner said.

“It’s neat to think about how different high school may look in 10 years from when we went to high school,” she said. “We’ve got to get parents on board to realize this is not the same school they went to.”

Reflecting on being given the Excellence in Education award, Skinner said it was a surprise, especially since she had been carrying a secret of her own.

She knew her husband, Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner, had won Grant Countian of the Year, but did not know she was going to be recognized as well.

Rick, along with Tracie Kinman-Rothwell and Misty Middleton, nominated Skinner for the honor.

“I was humbled and honored,” Skinner said. “When I see the work that classroom teachers do or our classified staff, it takes everybody. We wouldn’t be the school we are today if we didn’t have all of those wheels turning in the same direction and trying to hit the same target goal.”