By Mike Marsee
“Coach” hasn’t been in Henry Webb’s job title in more than a dozen years, but he is still very much a coach at heart.
As superintendent of the Floyd County schools, Webb is responsible for what he calls Team Floyd, which is working to ensure a better future for children in the county that is his home.
“The heart of a coach’s job is to make people better and get the best people you can get for your kids,” Webb said. “Now my job is coaching our people, making our people better so we can provide a world-class education for our kids.”
Webb was recognized for his work as the coach of Team Floyd by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, which named him the Kentucky Superintendent of the Year last month.
“I’m one of those people that has always wanted to help others,” he said. “Playing basketball at Alice Lloyd College, when I had some success on the court I wanted to help others, and I realized I wanted to teach and coach. Every job I’ve gotten, it’s always been coaching and helping more kids. When I got into administration, I realized I was coaching at a much higher level.”
Webb coached several sports during his years as a teacher in Floyd County, most notably guiding the South Floyd High School boys’ basketball team to the state tournament for the first time in 2001.
As superintendent, he has led a culture shift to stress the importance of focusing Team Floyd’s efforts on every child in the district.
“I can tell you that wasn’t always the case,” he said.
Pam Caudill, the district’s community education liaison, nominated Webb for the Superintendent of the Year award and said she did so because of “his passion for making sure we’re doing the best for every single kid.”
“It’s not lip service, it’s, ‘How are we going to do this?’” Caudill said. “If we want to do something for kids, he very rarely says no. It’s, ‘How can we? How can we find the money? How can we change this policy?’ If it’s for kids, he’s on board.”
Webb said it’s an example of actions speaking louder than words.
“It’s not how we feel or what we say, it’s what we do,” he said. “What we do is what we say we’ll do.”
Floyd County has raised its academic profile since Webb became superintendent in 2007. Once classified as a “needs assistance” district, it has been a District of Distinction for three consecutive years.
“The success that has come to the Floyd County schools under Dr. Webb’s leaderships is nothing short of remarkable. He has established a culture of excellence that has produced not only phenomenal academic achievement but also an embedded vision for future success,” KASA Executive Director Wayne Young said in a news release.
“When the test scores start going up, everybody really starts to buy in,” Webb said. “Classroom teachers, whether they’re new teachers or experienced teachers, if they teach a lesson and kids master that content, it’s a great feeling. It’s just really building upon that success.”
Webb said one of the most significant steps toward raising test scores in the district was increasing the attendance rate. Absenteeism is a problem for many districts in eastern Kentucky. Floyd County averaged about 90 percent attendance before Webb became superintendent and set a goal of 95 percent.
Attendance plans are in place for each school and for the district as a whole, and Webb sends student and staff attendance data daily to all principals, central office staff members and school board members. The average attendance rate in 2015-16 was 95.21 percent, an all-time high for the district.
“Kids can’t learn if they’re not in school,” he said. “We want them to understand that a major key to success is daily attendance.”
Another success story is the Floyd County Early College Academy, a collaborative program between the district and Big Sandy Community and Technical College that allows students to attend college full time during their junior and senior years. Since the academy was established in 2012, 39 students have graduated with both a high school diploma and an associate degree.
“There’s a lot of focus on not leaving children behind, and sometimes people have forgotten that those upper kids need to be taken further than they were,” Caudill said.
The district is in the third year of a digital conversion initiative that by fall 2017 will allow all students in grades 5-12 – and their teachers – to have a personal technology device they can use both in and out of the classroom.
Floyd County has more than 5,700 students in 15 schools, and more than 75 percent of those students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Caudill said Webb has worked to make sure students in remote parts of the county have the same opportunities as those in Prestonsburg, the county seat, including access to the arts and foreign language instruction.
“He goes out once a week into schools, he goes into classrooms, he talks to teachers, he talks to cooks, he reads the student work on the wall. I’ve never had a superintendent out in the school buildings as much as he is,” said Caudill, who is in her 22nd year in the district.
Webb, who has spent his entire 22-year career in Floyd County, said he wasn’t a particularly good student during his years in the county’s schools.
“I wasn’t driven,” he said. “But there were a handful of people who changed my life. My life was changed forever, unequivocally, because of educators.
“That’s ultimately, I would imagine, what everybody wants out of a career and out of life, to help people be successful. It’s a great feeling to help kids live out their lifelong dreams.”
He said it means even more to be doing that in his home county.
“It means the world to me, honestly, because I understand firsthand what a difference education makes and what a difference it can make in a child’s life,” Webb said. “It’s important to me that when students leave our school system they’ve got an excellent chance to be successful, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Webb was presented with the Superintendent of the Year award in a surprise announcement last month.
“I was very humbled and honored to accept that on behalf of Team Floyd,” he said.
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