By Matthew Tungate
Without the Minority Superintendent Internship Program, Alvin Garrison said he would not have applied to be a superintendent this year.
“The exposures that I received through the Minority Superintendent Program gave me the confidence that I could be considered for a superintendency,” the former John Hardin High School (Hardin County) principal said. “Had I not had those exposures, I don’t think I’d have had the confidence to put my name in the hat just yet.”
That would have been a loss for Covington Independent, where Garrison started as superintendent July 1.
Garrison was one of three people accepted to the Minority Superintendent Internship Program (MSIP), a Kentucky Department of Education initiative designed to identify and train a pool of highly qualified and highly effective ethnic minority superintendent candidates for Kentucky’s school districts. The other two educators selected for the program are Georgia Hampton and Shervita West, both elementary principals in the Jefferson County school district.
The three interns began the newly revised, two-year MSIP program in mid-November last year. Garrison, Hampton and West stayed in their jobs in their home districts, worked with district administrators to learn their roles and participated in the Kentucky Association of School Administrators’ (KASA’s) Next Generation Superintendent Intern Leadership Series.
In the second year of the program, Hampton and West will spend the year interning in the Meade and Fayette counties school districts, respectively.
Garrison said the biggest benefit for him during his year in the program was being able to attend state and national conferences where he could meet other superintendents and learn about the issues with which he was less familiar as a high school principal.
Hearing the successes and failures of other superintendents gave him the confidence to apply for a district’s top job.
“After going through those experiences, I felt confident I can do the job,” he said.
Hampton and West both said they benefited from the conferences as well. But it was their opportunities to meet with district-level administrators that they credit for giving them a real view of what being a superintendent is like.
“The internship has really given me a wider opportunity to have a wider lens on what the job is really about,” West said. “Now having a more focused lens on what they do has deepened that level of regard and respect for the role that central office plays in supporting their schools.”
West, principal at Brandeis Math, Science and Technology Elementary School, said it is easy for a principal to focus on his or her school.
“Going beyond those four walls and seeing a systemic approach to what we do as a system was very vital to my growth as I’m aspiring to be a superintendent, but also for my knowledge base as a principal,” she said.
John Marshall, assistant superintendent for Diversity, Equity, and Poverty Programs in the Jefferson County school district, said he tried to set up opportunities for West and Hampton to meet with the chief of every department, and he wanted them to use their “principal’s lens” to see how that department affects students.
“We don’t see kids every day, we don’t talk to kids every day like you do, but I want you to be able to articulate how John Marshall’s job still impacts kids in the classroom, or I want you to see ‘I’m so far removed from kids I don’t see how it works,’” he said he told the two interns. “Because I told them you might get up here and be too far away from kids, but I want you to see that and I want you to feel it.”
Hampton and West will get an even better view of what it is like to be a superintendent this year. Hampton is working with first-year Meade County Superintendent John Millay, and West is working with Fayette County Superintendent Tom Shelton.
Hampton, principal at Indian Trail Elementary School, said she will benefit from seeing Millay, who has been superintendent in two other districts, implement his leadership style and system in the Meade County school district. Millay has committed to letting her experience “all the big rocks,” she said, including budget/finance, curriculum and instruction, nutrition and special education.
West said she received two district assignments, attended meetings of the local school board and the Prichard Committee, attended a district retreat and visited schools to help them prepare for school to start – “and that’s just the first week.”
Both West and Hampton said they hope to be a superintendent before the next school year, but they also said they would be happy to return to their schools with their increased knowledge.
“Where this will lead, quite honestly I’m not sure. But what I am sure is I will be a better educator because of this experience, therefore I will be even better for kids,” Hampton said. “It is all about kids. All the decisions that we make, whether it is about budgets, human resources/personnel, everything that we do should be predicated on what’s going to be best for kids.”
Garrison, the only superintendent in the state who is a minority, said he hopes his success will help West, Hampton and others know they can make it to the top spot in a district.
“If you see others achieve it gives you the confidence to believe you can do it as well,” he said. “But if you don’t have that to look for, it’s hard to raise your confidence.”
West said she has confidence.
“I think that by the end of the year, not only will Alvin be serving as a superintendent but myself and Georgia as well,” she said.
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