Picture of a smiling man in a suit standing in front of a row of books in a library.

Ralph Hamilton, new superintendent of Morgan County Schools, at the June meeting of the Kentucky School Boards Association in Frankfort. Hamilton, who took over from retiring superintendent C. Thomas Potter, has served as a teacher, director of pupil personnel and interim principal for Morgan County Schools.
Photo by Toni Konz Tatman

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of a series of stories Kentucky Teacher is running about new superintendents for the 2021-2022 school year.

  • Ralph Hamilton has served as a teacher, director of pupil personnel and interim principal for Morgan County Schools.
  • Hamilton wants to help all students succeed and attract today’s youth to teaching careers.

By Jim Gaines

Superintendent is a new job for Ralph Hamilton, but he is very familiar with the Morgan County school system he now oversees.

“I was born and raised in Morgan County,” he said. “I started my educational career in a little Head Start one-room school called Moon Head Start when I was 3 years old.”

Hamilton graduated from Morgan County High School in 2005, earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Morehead State University in 2009, a master’s degree in school administration from Morehead in 2011, and completed his doctorate in educational leadership there in 2018.

“I went to school as long as I could,” he said.

Hamilton began teaching Algebra 1 at Elliott County High School in 2009. A year later he moved home to Morgan County, where he taught Algebra 1 and 2 and served as athletic director. He did that for four years until he became the district’s director of pupil personnel.

He took on more administrative duties during that time, serving as director of the Youth Service Family Resource Center, homeless coordinator, foster care liaison, school safety coordinator and healthy at work officer.

Hamilton served as interim principal at Morgan County’s East Valley Elementary School in 2015-2016, then as interim principal at the district’s Wrigley Elementary in 2017.

He also collaborated with colleagues to create the Morgan County Virtual Learning Academy and served as its principal from July 2015 to June 2017.

In 2015, the Kentucky General Assembly changed the legal dropout age from 16 to 18 and did not provide an exemption for those under age 18 who already had dropped out. Hamilton was tasked with providing a virtual option for those students, allowing them to earn high school diplomas without interrupting the working lives they already had begun.

The need for the academy disappeared when the last of those students turned 18 or graduated.

Now he is taking on another role in the school district. On July 1, Hamilton began serving as Morgan County’s superintendent on a four-year contract. Outgoing Superintendent C. Thomas Potter is working as a consultant for the next year through the Kentucky Educational Development Corporation, Hamilton said.

Morgan County, located in Eastern Kentucky, has about 14,000 residents. Morgan County Schools has about 2,000 students and 120 teachers in four elementary schools, a middle school and a high school, an area technology center and youth development center.

“Morgan County is my home,” Hamilton said. “I’m very indebted to how it served me growing up. Being able to give back to the Morgan County community and serve our students is a dream come true.”

He and his wife, Nikki, have a daughter, Brylee, who will start kindergarten in the 2022-2023 school year.

Being from a disadvantaged area himself, Hamilton has come a long way and is committed to helping all students succeed – especially those that other people don’t think will make it, said Vickie Oldfield, Morgan County High School principal.

“I think it’ll always be ‘kids first’ (for him). I think he will be visible in the public,” she said. “The staff and students are really looking forward to working with him and seeing all of the great things our district is capable of doing.”

Oldfield is in her 14th year as a principal. She has known Hamilton for much of that time but worked more closely with him during the past four years while she has been high school principal.

“He was instrumental in improving our graduation rate,” Oldfield said.

Over the last couple of years that rate has risen from the mid-90s to around 99%, she said.

Hamilton’s dedication has been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he was always been ready to contact families any time of day, Oldfield said.

“He visited one home 10 times,” she explained.

Hamilton said he wants to see the community and all students succeed.

“As educators we must work together to understand each of their individual needs, their individual strengths and areas of improvement,” he said.

Hamilton wants the community and school system to work toward unity for the common goal of student success.

“We really need to highlight and celebrate our successes and use that to create momentum to enrich our school climate and culture,” he said.

Another priority is creating the next generation of teachers. Hamilton wants to work with district administrative staff on incentives for today’s students to become educators themselves.

 “I love our community, our county. I’m committed to ensuring that we move forward and offer the best education program in the state,” Hamilton said. “I won’t let any of our community members or students down.”