Located smack-dab in between the larger cities of Louisville and Frankfort, the small town of Eminence, Ky., is a tight-knit community of about 2,200 people. About a quarter of the population is enrolled in the Eminence Independent School District where the elementary, middle and high schools are all housed under a single roof--not uncommon in a town where the local pharmacy also doubles as the community hardware store.
Schools Superintendent David Baird says despite its small-town charms, "This is not Mayberry RFD." The 16-year veteran superintendent of the 650-student district drives that point home to new teachers and instructional aides at the beginning of every school year.
Appearances can be deceiving: Despite its size, Eminence struggles with many of the same problems as urban districts. About a quarter of the town's population lives below the poverty line and about 60 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunch. Another 25 percent of the students qualify for special ed. Baird says the town also suffers from a significant drug problem, but there have been zero drug violations in the school in the last 10 years.
Survivor: Independent school districts are a dying breed in Kentucky. If they don't meet academic goals or remain financially viable, they can be forced to consolidate with the surrounding county. Baird has not only survived, he has thrived by meeting achievement levels for the past eight years and the district gains additional state revenue by drawing 20 percent of its students from outside the district.
Summertime and the learning's easy: Baird is a pioneer of the year-round education movement in Kentucky. "We've seen true signs of success. Specifically in areas of student and staff attitude," Baird says. "There's less of a phenomenon of teacher burnout and students look forward to the breaks." Baird serves as president of the Kentucky Association for Year Round Education.
Doing more with less: Pulling double duty is a way of life in the small district. Baird maximizes resources through the dedication of his staff. For example, the high school principal is also the football coach.
Stability control: Baird has been with the district 26 years--16 as superintendent, 10 as the high school principal. The average tenure for the entire teaching staff is 10.5 years and some of his top administrators have been there more than 20 years. "We now have a situation where students I had as principal have children coming back and in a few cases, grandchildren."
Ties that bind: Baird's twin boys graduated from Eminence in 1996 and his wife, Joyce, serves as the district's technology coordinator. Baird says his strong ties to the community enhances the education process. "Where else can you have such access to the superintendent?"
Going out at the top of his game: After being honored as Kentucky's superintendent of the year in 2004-05, Baird was offered an opportunity to pursue one of his true passions--government relations. In August, Baird informed the Board of Education he was leaving to join the Kentucky School Boards Association. "I feel like I'm going out on top," he says.
Jonathan Lucas is a freelance writer based in Stamford, Conn.