By Susan Riddell
A few minutes after William King was named Kentucky’s 2013 Milken Family Foundation National Award winner, the surprised honoree was busy networking with former winners who were there to welcome him into the Milken fraternity.
King, an assistant principal at Bowling Green (Independent) High School who is in charge of the freshman class, immediately started handing out business cards while receiving congratulations from Milken representatives, fellow educators and other stakeholders like Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.
In between handshakes and hugs, he began asking the distinguished Milken attendees about presenting at upcoming Western Kentucky University TeachMeets, informal learning opportunities where teachers share 15-minute best practices before rotating stations.
“That’s just what he does,” Bowling Green High Principal Gary Fields said. “He’s always engaged in what’s going on. It’s so amazing that he’s very savvy when it comes to simple things and with other bigger things like technology. He’s just an innovative educator.”
Fields said King’s focus on simple things is an extension of his passion for student success.
“That’s why you saw him sitting up in the bleachers today with his students instead of down here (by the podium),” Fields said. “I could probably ask him any freshman’s shoe size, and he could tell me exactly what it is.”
King began teaching social studies at Bowling Green High 2002, and he eventually became the school’s literacy coach and curriculum coordinator.
When the school decided to re-evaluate its administrative positions and add an assistant principal to serve as a freshman principal, King took that spot.
“We really focus on forming a picture of every freshman, where they are and where they need to be,” King said. “We look at their EXPLORE scores and really get into their (individual learning plans).”
King said being able to focus his time and energy into a specific grade level allows him to have meaningful conversations with his students.
“If a student is failing math, I don’t yell at them,” King said. “I can get to know them and figure out what the real issue is. I can find out about their parents and home life. They are young adults, and it’s more productive that way to help them get back on track academically.”
As the 9th-grade principal, King meets with middle school teachers and parents to help students transition more successfully to high school. This had led a 68 percent reduction in freshman retentions since King’s position was created.
King agreed with Fields that he is passionate about technology. When he started teaching at Bowling Green High, he was given an overhead projector. He soon asked for a laptop and a digital projector, and his request was granted on the contingency that he used it and trained other teachers to use them, too.
Later in his teaching career, he “tried to spice up anything I could up with current events,” King said, “whether it was setting up a fake Twitter account for Thomas Jefferson or something like that, it was all about hooking to the kids and getting them excited to learn.
“We do the same things for staff,” King added. “We’ve had flipped faculty meetings where we’ve provided videos and sent the faculty home to spend time with their families.”
King is active in the school’s Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) training process.
“We’ve just started introducing it to the teachers,” King said. “We’re excited to see where PGES takes us.”
Roger Marcum, who currently chairs the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) and was a Milken Award winner in 1997, said King’s newest honor will help the entire Bowling Green High community prosper.
“Receiving the Milken Award was recognition and affirmation for the work of the faculty and staff of South Laurel High School (Laurel County) as we strived to restructure the high school experience to meet the needs of all students,” Marcum said.
“I was blessed to serve as the principal and receive the award recognizing our work,” Marcum added. “While we were convinced our restructuring efforts were making a significant difference for our students, the Milken Foundation provided not only recognition nationally, but more importantly affirmed our work and motivated us to continue our efforts to be creative and innovative.”
William Twyman, another KBE member and the state’s first Milken honoree in 1993, hopes to see King take advantage of more networking opportunities traditional with the Milken award – similar to how King did moments following his selection.
“Each person may be as involved as much or as little as they want to be,” said Twyman, a former principal at Glasgow (Independent) Middle School. “Whether it’s state and federal policies; teaching strategies; the latest educational items facing educators, he just needs to enjoy his newfound popularity and keep pushing the envelope.”
Marcum said winning the award inspired him to stay focused on fostering high quality student achievement and providing parents and school faculty members the resources they need to assist in that achievement.
King said he intends to continue in education under that same focus.
“It’s a blessing for me to be involved in the education of young people,” King said. “There’s no other place I’d rather be.”