A new partnership between Eastern Kentucky University and Madison County Schools “will set this community apart from the rest of the Commonwealth.”
That’s how Madison County Schools Superintendent Elmer Thomas described a doctoral fellowship that will allow one MCS administrator or teacher a year to pursue, with all tuition and fees paid by the University, an Ed.D. degree in educational leadership and policy studies on the Richmond campus.
No stranger to celebrating major victories – Madison Central High School captured state marching band championships the past two years after the boys’ basketball team won a state title in 2013 – Thomas felt like cheering again when he got the news recently from EKU President Michael Benson.
“I can’t express how appreciative and excited I am for this opportunity,” Thomas said. “I was with my wife when (Benson) called and, as he was sharing with me about this fellowship, I couldn’t help but look at her and pump my fists like we had just won a championship.”
Thomas had double reason to be excited. EKU tabbed the superintendent to be the program’s first Fellow. Then, each subsequent year, the school system will select one administrator or teacher to participate.
“When he shared that this would include an additional MCS employee each year to go into the program, I immediately felt humbled for the future of this partnership and the impact it will have on our students, district, university and community. I was truly in tears – tears of joy, thankfulness and humility. The fellowship will allow for a continual flow of MCS employees to have the opportunity to grow, learn, develop and expand their ability in teaching and learning in a way that has never been approached before.”
Benson, noting that many EKU grads are teachers and administrators in local schools, said the fellowship “establishes an even stronger link between the University and the Madison County School District. “We take very seriously our responsibility to help develop the next round of leaders.”
Those future leaders will come from all ranks in the school system, Thomas said.
“The realm of education leaders has changed so much over the last few years,” he noted. “It used to be that those who became principals or, in some cases, Central Office employees were the leaders. Now, there are so many teacher-leaders in all our schools that a mix of school-level administrators/principals, district office administrators, and teacher-leaders would be wonderful candidates for this opportunity.”
EKU Provost Dr. Janna Vice said she is “delighted” that Thomas will be the first Fellow.
“Elmer, as a current superintendent and Kentucky’s 2011 Principal of the Year (Kentucky Association of Secondary School Principals), brings a level of experience that makes his appointment mutually beneficial,” Vice said. “This partnership with Madison County is consistent with the goal of our Ed.D. program to increase the educational leadership capacity of our region and beyond.”
Thomas said the process by which candidates are selected for the program will be announced later.
The University and school system already work together to place numerous student teachers, student observers, interns and others in our schools, Thomas noted. “The majority of our teachers and administrators have done their coursework through EKU. It almost seems natural for this partnership, especially to further a key focus of EKU – a teaching-and-learning university.”
It’s certainly a perfect fit for Thomas, who earned an undergraduate scholarship to EKU – “otherwise, I probably would not have been able to attend college” – and went on to complete all his coursework at Eastern. In addition to his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, plus Rank 1-Principal and Superintendent certification, he taught in the English and Foreign Languages departments.
“I was raised in Estill County and when I was young, we really only traveled to Richmond,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know much about anywhere else in the state, country or world, so when we came by EKU, my eyes were wide open in trying to take in everything.”
Now he, and others to follow, can add a doctoral degree to the list of dreams achieved.