A woman sits on the floor talking to a young girl, while another girl colors nearby.

New Kentucky Board of Education member Jamie Bowling talks to kindergarten students at Middlesboro Elementary School (Middlesboro Independent) during the students’ independent practice in the school media center. Gov. Andy Beshear appointed Bowling to the board on March 12 to serve the remainder of her late husband Mike Bowling’s term.
Photo by Frank Shelton, March 26, 2021

  • Jamie Bowling served 16 years on the Middlesboro Independent School District board of education, including 12 years as board chair.
  • On the Middlesboro board, Bowling oversaw a series of major capital projects.

By Jim Gaines

After Mike Bowling became a member of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) in 2019, he told his wife Jamie Bowling that the seat really should be hers, with her extensive background in education, including 16 years on the Middlesboro Independent School District board.

Now it is. Mike Bowling resigned from the KBE on Feb. 19, citing health concerns. He died the following day, at age 64. Gov. Andy Beshear had appointed Mike Bowling to the seat representing Supreme Court District 3 in December 2019.

On March 12, Gov. Beshear appointed Jamie Bowling to serve the remainder of her late husband’s term, which expires April 14, 2024.

Although Mike Bowling often was regarded as the “family politician,” Jamie Bowling ran for – and won – public office before he did.

“So he actually rode in on my coattails,” she said with a laugh.

Mike Bowling, an attorney, served as state representative for the 87th District, which includes Middlesboro, from 1991 to 1998. That seat is now held by the Bowling’s son, Adam.

Jamie Bowling said she left the Middlesboro school board in 2005 for family reasons and has not been heavily involved in Kentucky education since.

“I didn’t anticipate stepping back into this role at this point in my life, but I think it’s so important for the children of southeastern Kentucky to have a voice on the board,” Bowling said.

She has always wanted to serve as a voice for children, promoting the best possible education for all, and that’s especially needed in areas such as Middlesboro, she said. Middlesboro lies on the southeastern edge of the state.

Darryl Wilder was superintendent of the Middlesboro Independent School District for 12 years before retiring in 2009. His time overlapped with Jamie Bowling’s local school board service from 1998 to 2005.

“I worked with Jamie for eight years. She was board chair,” he said. “She was on the board that hired me, as a matter of fact.”

Wilder said he was “tickled to death” to hear of Jamie Bowling’s appointment to the KBE.

“She will be great for them, she’ll be great for kids in Kentucky and she’ll be a great board member,” Wilder said. “They couldn’t have gotten a better board member.”

Jamie Bowling was born and raised in Middlesboro and has spent most of her life there. She is a graduate of Middlesboro High School and holds a bachelor’s of science in nursing from the University of Kentucky.

She met Mike Bowling in high school, and they married just after her college graduation in 1979.

When Mike Bowling went to law school at Northern Kentucky University, Jamie Bowling took a job as a neonatal intensive care unit nurse at Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati. He had gone to college on an Army ROTC scholarship, so in 1981 they moved to Killeen, Texas, while Mike Bowling was on active duty at Fort Hood.

During their four years there, Jamie Bowling traveled between 17 central Texas counties as a neonatal nurse outreach clinician. She taught advanced care for newborns to personnel at 35 hospitals in that area.

“I enjoyed the teaching mode of nursing as much as I enjoyed nursing itself,” Bowling said. “It always made me second-guess whether I should’ve been a teacher, because I just totally enjoyed it.”

The Bowlings moved back to Middlesboro in 1985, where Mike Bowling opened a law practice. Born into a military family, he had moved 18 times as a child, so calling one place home permanently was a welcome change for him, Jamie Bowling said.

“He was always just mesmerized by the fact that I had friends I went to kindergarten with,” she said. “He wanted our children to have roots.”

After the birth of their third child, Jamie Bowling didn’t return to her career in nursing. But she already was very involved with education, and that involvement only grew. In 1988, she ran for and won a seat on the Middlesboro Independent board of education. She remained on the board for 16 years, including 12 as board chair. During part of that time, Bowling also was a board member of the Kentucky School Boards Association and the Kentucky School Curriculum and Assessment and Accountability Council. Later she served as a trustee for Pikeville University.

“But I got my start in all this by being a homeroom mother in three different classrooms for three different kids,” Bowling said.

Two women stand in front of a door talking to each other.

Kentucky Board of Education member Jamie Bowling, right, talks to 4th-grade social studies teacher Jenny McCune at Middlesboro Elementary School (Middlesboro Independent). Bowling came to see renovations to the school’s upper grades wing. She admired McCune’s room, which includes a “student-friendly” library converted from a closet, visible behind Bowling.
Photo by Frank Shelton, March 26, 2021

She loved being a member of the Middlesboro school board, setting goals and seeing them through. In her years on the board, Middlesboro Independent carried out a major capital program, building a fine arts center with an auditorium, two libraries and gymnasiums, and installed air conditioning in its schools, she said.

“She really moved Middleboro forward, both academically and in the building program also,” Wilder said. “She was very proud of that building project, because Middleboro was not loaded with dough.”

The district instituted a utility tax well before schools statewide began receiving that money automatically, Jamie Bowling said.

“That was very controversial, but it was to help fund our building project and our other school programs that we had going on at the time,” she said.

Before becoming superintendent, Wilder was principal of Middlesboro High School. He recalls Jamie Bowling as an active and engaged school board member who sought out facts on her own and was always ready for debate, but would back people and ideas strongly once convinced they were right.

“She would listen. If she disagreed, she wasn’t afraid to tell you her opinion, but she had an open mind,” Wilder said. “Everything she did, she did for kids. It just had to be for kids or she wasn’t with you.”

Bowling said she has no specific initiatives she wants to push as she joins the KBE, as she wants to familiarize herself with upcoming issues. But she said her personal strengths and qualifications align with the board’s needs and mission: critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration. Bowling believes emphatically that board members should bring an ambitious vision for the future of Kentucky education and have the courage to dream boldly.

Bowling’s seat, like 10 others on the 15-member KBE, is held at the pleasure of the governor.

“I’m very honored to do it, and I know that he (Mike Bowling) would be very happy that I’m doing it,” Jamie Bowling said.