Kalem Grasham, the former principal at Garrard County High School, and Jerry Gels, director of innovative programs for Boone County schools, have been chosen as 2017 Administrators of the Year by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA).
Grasham was named the School-Level Administrator of the Year, while Gels was named the District-Level Administrator of the Year. They were recognized last month at KASA’s Annual Leadership Institute in Louisville.
Grasham became principal at Garrard County High in 2013 after serving as a health and physical education teacher and assistant principal. During his tenure, the school went from Needs Improvement status to Distinguished status in the Unbridled Learning Accountability System.
Grasham developed a detailed annual plan for the school’s success and selected three main areas for improvement. He worked closely with his administrative team and department chairs to set monthly goals using detailed monitoring systems.
“He works tirelessly to ensure every student and staff member has the knowledge, confidence and support to pursue their dreams,” Assistant Principal Diana Hart said. “If they encounter a bump in the road, Mr. Grasham is there to offer advice and a silly story to make them laugh. He leads each department in data-driven, professional learning community meetings and models the work ethic he expects from everyone.”
Grasham also worked to instill school pride. Posters line the walls of the school showcasing staff members, students and the honors which they have earned for themselves and the school. He used social media to further communicate recognition for the students and staff.
His work with community leaders was essential in establishing an on-site school farm. The farm gave the land a much-needed purpose and allowed students access to a zero-interest loan for the purchase of cattle to raise and sell later for a profit.
Grasham, who recently accepted a job as Garrard County’s director of federal programs, serves on KASA’s steering committee, where he represents a voice for all students to help plan the future of Kentucky’s accountability system and teacher evaluation system.
“Mr. Grasham expresses a true desire for the students of Garrard County to excel in post-secondary endeavors and life,” Casey County High School Principal Joshua Blevins said. “He has consistently impressed upon me that he is a dedicated educator, responsible man of integrity and a true leader. He makes a positive difference and has always proven to be a professional who holds truly admirable qualities.”
Gels is credited with the idea to form the Boone County Early College and Boone County Design School. He was instrumental in forming partnerships with three postsecondary institutions (Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More College and Gateway Community and Technical College) giving Boone County students the opportunity to attend college for a half-day with the potential of earning 24 college credit hours per year.
“Jerry Gels is a fine example of what can be accomplished if your heart is really connected to your work,” Boone County Superintendent Randy Poe said. “His career ambition is to make a difference in the students others gave up on. He takes great pride in proving to students that they can succeed in the right atmosphere.”
Gels led the overhaul of the district’s alternative education program. Students work through alternative means to earn credits and focus on project-based learning and service learning initiatives, creating real products that build pride, self-worth and renewed engagement in school.
“These programs have literally saved the lives of students,” Boone County Deputy Superintendent Karen Cheser said. “More than 250 students who had dropped out have been able to graduate through the programs Jerry established. His development of the Alternative Center for Education and Virtual School have become national role models and have impacted the education of countless students beyond Boone County schools.”
Gels created the Home Builders program to help students enter the construction industry. He authored the innovation application that was used as the foundation to create the Ignite Institute, a new school opening in 2019. His work was instrumental in landing a $6.7 million Work Ready Skills Initiative grant to renovate a building given to the district by Toyota.
“Jerry is known for enjoying the challenge of tackling student problems that others think are impossibilities,” Cheser said.