James Cornett with his wife and two daughters.

New Owsley County Schools Superintendent James Cornett (left), enjoys spending time with his wife, Heather, and his daughters, Adilyn Scarlett and Aurora Caroline. Photo courtesy of Heather Cornett.

James “Gary” Cornett, a veteran district and school administrator with the Owsley County Schools, now leads the district as its superintendent.

Cornett said he is excited to oversee the district’s work, and to work hard for his students.

“The greatest resource of eastern Kentucky isn’t coal, and it’s not timber… it’s our people, it’s our kids,” he said.

Cornett, who is in his 19th year of work, brings experience as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal and director of pupil personnel to the role of superintendent.

Cornett graduated from Owsley County High School in 1999 and Eastern Kentucky University in 2003. His bachelor’s degree in agriculture led him to work at University of Kentucky in the Department of Agriculture. His master’s degree in education led him to the classroom.

He spent years working in Owsley County Schools before becoming superintendent this summer. He said he has always been interested in education.

“My mom was a schoolteacher. I grew up around the field of education,” Cornett explained.

He felt inspired to become a teacher and, ultimately, superintendent, because he believes the students in Owsley County and Appalachia deserve access to educational opportunities presented elsewhere.

“I’ve always said I’m very proud to be from eastern Kentucky, I’m very proud to be from Owsley County. I know a lot of the time there’s a stigma associated with people from eastern Kentucky… one of my goals as a teacher, one of my goals as a principal, and every other role was to help shed that stigma,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to help and be able to give back to this area, whether it’s Owsley County or Appalachia as a whole.”  

Cornett believes education is one important way to do that.

He decided to pursue work in administration because of their impactful work. He said that teachers impact students in their building and classrooms and district administrators impact the lives of students across the district, a draw in for him.

As superintendent, he said he will focus his time on preparing the students in the Owsley County Schools for post-secondary life, expanding access to opportunities through innovation.

“We want to provide [our students] with an innovative education, we want to give them the best quality education known,” he said. 

Cornett wants to put a stronger emphasis on curriculum and instruction, opening doors for his students.

“We want to eliminate any type of barrier that we can that prevents our students from attaining something they want to, whether it’s an internship or a co-op or job-shadowing, we want to be able to reach out to industries and businesses even if they aren’t in eastern Kentucky… we want to give our kids those opportunities.”

Cornett said that Owsley County Schools has become known in the mountains for its use of innovative practices.

“We want to use innovation to improve our instruction and to remove barriers,” he said.

James Cornett poses for a picture with another man and a young girl holding a book and smiling.

Cornett (right) wants to put a stronger emphasis on curriculum and instruction, opening doors for his students. He said Owsley County is known in the area for their innovative practices in the classroom. Photo courtesy of James Cornett.

Owsley County Schools offer multiple career learning pathways for its students, including a pathway through a partnership with the district’s local area technology center. One of Cornett’s goals as superintendent is to expand Owsley County Schools’ career pathway options.

Projects he is working on are a criminal justice pathway and an education pathway for aspiring teachers.

“I am working with higher, post-secondary institutions, congregating an education pathway. We’re doing the pathway through CTE (career and technical education) right now, but I’m continuously working to get dual credit classes in it,” he said.

The pathway’s expansion would allow students interested in becoming teachers to complete dual-credit courses in education while they are students at Owsley County High School.

Cornett’s wife, Heather, is a teacher in the Owsley County Schools. His daughters, Adilyn Scarlett and Aurora Caroline, are 6 and 4 years old. He said he enjoys spending time with his family and friends.