New superintendent Brian Robinson bringing a fresh start to Fort Thomas school district

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A picture of a smiling man, wearing a suit and standing in front of a school.
Northern Kentucky native Brian Robinson became superintendent of Fort Thomas Independent Schools on July 1, replacing Karen Cheser, who retired at the end of June.
Photo submitted

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

Northern Kentucky native Brian Robinson has always been drawn to the classroom and that lure led to a career in education. On July 1, he became superintendent of Fort Thomas Independent Schools (FTIS), replacing Karen Cheser, who retired at the end of June.

“Neither my mother nor my father graduated from college, but from the earliest time that I can understand, there was a high value on education in our house,” said Robinson.

Robinson has deep roots in northern Kentucky. He is a graduate of Simon Kenton High School (Kenton County), Thomas Moore College and Northern Kentucky University. While he was an undeclared major when he started at Thomas Moore, by day three of his Introduction to Education class, he was hooked.

Robinson began teaching at Highlands High School (Fort Thomas Independent) as a government and U.S. History teacher, later becoming assistant principal and spending five years in that position. After a short stint in the district office, Robinson served as Highland High School’s principal for nine years.

While he was also a baseball coach and club sponsor, Robinson’s favorite role has been in the classroom.

“Whether it be through coaching roles or through the classroom, I was always drawn to teaching and learning,” he said.

Robinson spent time as executive director in curriculum instruction and assessment at The College Board, and most recently was the associate director of secondary instruction at Forest Hills School District in Cincinnati.

Now he’s returning to his roots as superintendent of Fort Thomas Schools.

“I wanted to come back to Kentucky, and specifically, there’s no district I love more than Fort Thomas,” said Robinson. “Professionally, going from principal to superintendent, it was a goal of mine to be able to have an impact.”

Robinson is grateful that previous work by staff to prepare for this school year revolved around making sure students and staff have everything they need to be successful.

 “We’re very fortunate that the team that was in place prior to me being a superintendent, a lot of their planning at the start of the year was professional development around mental wellness, student wellness and teacher wellness,” he said. “A lot of our early conversations are going to be around making sure that we attend to the wellness of our kids.”

Outside of required nontraditional instruction (NTI) days, Fort Thomas Schools were in session nearly every day that it was allowed last school year. Last year, fewer than 10% of its students remained virtual.

Robinson said there are signs of trauma among students and staff due to COVID-19, and because of this, there will be a strong focus on developing and encouraging a positive culture within schools and the community.

“Our responsibility first and foremost is to ensure that the conditions for success exist and the best way to do that is to tend to having a positive culture,” he said.

Robinson’s key to that positive culture is a focus on reflecting and renewing.

“Reflecting on the things that made us great, love our jobs, connect with kids,” he said. “Then how do we renew our focus for continuous improvement?”

At the start of the 2021-2022 school year, Fort Thomas Schools are opening a new campus for Johnson Elementary and welcoming new principals at their middle school and high school. Robinson said they are excited to start the school year with a sense of normalcy, and praised teachers for what they dealt with the past year.

“Our teachers are really resilient. We underestimate how challenging it is to lead classrooms and teach all day, even in a mask,” he said.

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