By Willie Sawyers
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
With a record of academic improvement under his leadership, Doug Bennett appears to be a good candidate to become the next superintendent of the Laurel County School System.
Bennett has worked the last 20 years in the Whitley County School System as a teacher, guidance counselor, principal and, currently, director of instruction. That broad experience will serve him well when he takes over a school district with a myriad of issues.
Some people may have wanted a higher-profile candidate as superintendent — a person from a larger district and perhaps even from out of state. Those candidates look good on paper, but may not be the best fit for the school system.
Remember, James Francis was a high-profile candidate from out of state who turned the system on its head before being forced out/bought out by the board of education.
An applicant with a great resume from a larger system was one of the finalists for superintendent, along with Bennett. But he apparently did not want to move to Laurel County. Heck with that. If he’s not willing to live in the school district, he doesn’t need to be leading it. Bennett plans to relocate to Laurel County with his wife and three children.
Bennett understands southeastern Kentucky and the issues faced by the school system and the students it serves. Even though Whitley County is smaller, a lot of great things have been happening there the last decade or so. Test scores improved under Bennett as head of instruction. That will be a top priority in his new job — improving test scores in Laurel County schools.
But he will face other challenges as well. Morale is low throughout the system, following the highly-publicized criminal charges against the former superintendent and director of pupil personnel.
It’s nice to see that Bennett also has some coaching experience, serving previously as wrestling coach at Whitley County High School. Perhaps he can infuse some much-needed enthusiasm into Laurel County athletics, which have been in the doldrums the last few years.
What the public needs the most from our new superintendent is accessibility and communication. Both have been lacking in recent years.
Bennett needs to improve the communication throughout the system from the top on down. He needs to communicate his goals and vision to his associates in the central office, to the principals, the teachers and then to the public.
A school superintendent needs to be as visible as the mayor or judge-executive, perhaps even more so since the school system is the county’s largest employer and consumes a sizable chunk of tax dollars.
Bennett should attend as many chamber luncheons and other public functions as possible to introduce himself to the community and to communicate his vision. That applies to the school board members as well. Board chairman Bud Stuber said improving communication is a top priority and is doing his part to make it happen.
It will be nice for the school system to get some positive publicity for a change, instead of mug shots in the local newspaper.
Along with the best facilities of any schools in the state, Bennett inherits a school system with many top-notch administrators and teachers who just need some new leadership. It’s a good position for a young administrator with energy, fresh ideas and the right experience.
It’s Doug Bennett’s time.
Welcome to Laurel County.