Sally Sugg, the new superintendent of Shelby County Schools, reads with a student during her visit to Shelby County’s Northside Early Childhood Center.

Sally Sugg, the new superintendent of Shelby County Schools, reads with a student during her visit to Shelby County’s Northside Early Childhood Center.
Photo submitted

Editor’s Note: This is the third of a series of stories Kentucky Teacher is running about new superintendents for the 2020-2021 school year.

By Jim Gaines

Becoming superintendent of Shelby County Schools was a return to familiar ground for Sally Sugg.

She had been interim superintendent of West Point Independent School District since August 2019, but from January 2007 to August 2008 Sugg worked in Shelby County, and it left an impression on her.

“The main reason that I wanted to pursue this position is that I worked here before as assistant superintendent for student achievement,” Sugg said.

The Shelby County School Board voted May 21 to hire her, succeeding Superintendent James Niehof, who retired June 30. Sugg took over July 1.

Sugg said she was impressed by the school system and community, which has a small-town atmosphere but is close to Louisville, Frankfort and Lexington.

“The community is extremely supportive of schools, and I really believe the teaching and leadership staff here are second to none,” she said.

The Henderson native received her bachelor’s degree from Murray State University, a master’s in secondary education and Rank 1 certification from Western Kentucky University, and her doctorate and superintendent endorsement from Eastern Kentucky University.

Sugg started her more than 30-year career in education by teaching social studies, geography and family psychology at Sikeston Junior High School in Missouri. She then came back to her hometown of Henderson, where she was a high school teacher of English and gifted and talented in the visual and performing arts and theater.

In 1995, she stepped into administration as an elementary principal in Henderson County, followed by the same role in McCracken County in July 1998.

In 2004, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) tapped her as a Highly Skilled Educator to work with low-performing schools in Christian, Fayette, Fulton, Monroe and Webster counties. Afterward, Sugg became Shelby County assistant superintendent.

Then she was named KDE associate commissioner in the Office of Leadership and School Improvement, where she served from August 2008 to December 2010.

She returned in November 2011 to Henderson County High School, where she had attended and taught, as principal.

Sugg spent 2015 as an adjunct professor at the University of the Cumberlands, then was a visiting lecturer at Murray State for the 2016-2017 school year.

From January 2015 to December 2018, she served one term on the Henderson County School Board.

“So I’ve seen education at all levels, as a student, parent, educator, administrator and school board member,” Sugg said.

As she served in subordinate roles, Sugg had great examples of leadership, she said.

The Shelby County board and Superintendent Niehof had made extensive improvements to the school system since she was there 12 years ago, and she’s excited to continue their work.

The district has more than 7,000 students in 11 regular schools, plus three alternative academies for students that don’t fit well in traditional high school settings, Sugg said. An area technology center serves Shelby and two other districts.

The school system is in great shape academically and financially, Sugg said. There are plans to renovate one high school, but otherwise schools are in excellent physical condition as well, she said.

For now the top priority in Shelby County – like everywhere else – is assuring the safety of students and staff during the COVID-19 crisis. But after that, Sugg said, she intends to continue the “wonderful trajectory” Niehof and the school board have set.

“I just plan to keep that ball rolling and support all the leaders in this district in doing this work,” she said.