Sunday, August 06, 2000

A take-charge school leader




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        Jack Moreland is loving this.

        At a forum for parents, he took to the microphone like a general channeling Oprah. He was authoritative one minute, warm and honest the next.

        He held up two thick binders — the state's audits of the Covington school system — and invited parents to read the bad news.

        He said the district had plenty of money to do a better job. He practically invited the resignation of unenthusiastic employees.

        “The meeting will be from 6:30 til the last question is asked,” Mr. Moreland told the audience of 150. “I got all night, if you want to do that.”

        It was a vigorous and invigorating performance, in contrast to the secretiveness of the previous administration. Additional public forums will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Kenton County Public Library and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 15 at John G. Carlisle School.

        Mr. Moreland is a former Dayton, Ky., schools superintendent and interim president of Northern Kentucky University. He came out of semi-retirement to lead Covington schools this summer.

        At a lunch with reporters re cently, Mr. Moreland coyly declined to say whether he would seek the permanent superintendency, but his smile said, “You betcha.”

        This could be very good news for a school system adrift.

        This spring, state officials spent five days scrutinizing the district. The results were highly critical.

        Mr. Moreland is using the state's findings to force quick change. The system must focus on improving instruction, he says. Teachers must be given meaningful evaluations and training. Principals must be freed from worrying about broken locks and leaky toilets.

        To that end, Mr. Moreland has reassigned 15 administrators, flattening the central bureaucracy. With the school board's OK, he spent $34,000 this summer to provide leadership training for principals and assistants.

        He also arranged five days of extra pay so teachers could work on “curriculum alignment.”

        And that's not all. Mr. Moreland has met with cooks and cus todians to discuss their role in making schools more friendly. He has set up a budget committee to review all requests for money, with a promise that no cows will be sacred.

        He has recruited old friends such as Jeff Volter, former principal of Dayton High School in Kentucky, who will work with principals to improve instruction. If need be, he'll go to schools and demonstrate lessons, Mr. Moreland says.

        After many years in Northern Kentucky, he knows whom he can trust, which should help him get past the internal resistance that hurt his predecessor. At the same time, he'll have to remain clear-eyed lest these friendships cloud his judgment.

        “Are there people leaving because Jack Moreland has come to town?” he asks himself aloud. “Maybe. I don't know.”

        They are the words of a confident man. He has a more important issue on his mind: the education of 4,600 children.

        Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. She can be reached at 578-5584 or ksamples@enquirer.com.

        Karen Samples is The Enquirer's Kentucky columnist. Her column appears on Sundays and Thursdays in The Kentucky Enquirer. She can be reached at 578-5584 or email her at ksamples@enquirer.com

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