Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Stu Silberman, August 5, 2015

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Okay, it's August 5th, 2015 and this in an interview with Stu Silberman for the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Stuart Silberman talks about his birth in Brooklyn and his early middle class family life and education. He talks about his teachers in public school who inspired him. He also talks about falling in love with teaching as a student teacher in Chattanooga.

Keywords: Public school administration

Subjects: Childhood; Education.; Teachers; Teaching

00:11:10 - Acquiring school leadership skills

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Partial Transcript: Well I was--I stayed there, I think I was at East Side for three years and the superintendent called and wanted me to go to another, uh, junior high school that was just recently integrated...

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about a new career assignment as principal in a school undergoing desegregation. He says he was promoted to area superintendent. He talks about his rise through the public school administrative ranks. He says he recognized a career as a superintendent as a calling during a surprise interview.

Keywords: Desegregation; Harry Reynolds; Magnet schools; Principals; Superintendents

Subjects: Education.; School integration.

00:21:07 - Education career in Daviess County

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Partial Transcript: How did you come up with the idea of opening that up into the community that way, and, uh, getting input from them about what was needed?

Segment Synopsis: Silberman says he believes schools belong to the communities. He talks about the improvement of his county school district. He talks about his district being the first in the state to provide laptops to students. He talks about his recruitment by "headhunters" for a career change to Fayette County. He says turnover in the superintendent's office caused unrest and massive feedback from the community. He talks about instituting a new name, "It's About Kids Support Services" and a 24 hour turn around policy in responding to communications to the Fayette County superintendent's office.

Keywords: 20/20 Vision; Graduation 2010; It's About Kids Support Services (IAKSS); Joe Kelly; Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA); School lunch

Subjects: Daviess County (Ky.); Education.

00:32:28 - Handling a massive workload

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Partial Transcript: I was going to ask you about that 'cause I read about that and, and I--how did you--did you have to change that policy or did you have to hire somebody to help you answer your emails...

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about the massive email workload he managed during his first year as Fayette County Superintendent. He says he only averaged two hours of sleep during this period because he felt it was important to model the 24 hour return communication policy. He talks about a survey of four questions used to implement improvement plans for his staff. He says his value system focuses on kids.

Keywords: Achievement gap; Differentiated funding; It's About Kids Support Services (IAKSS)

Subjects: Education.

00:40:40 - Districting challenges in Fayette County

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Partial Transcript: Can you talk about some of the particular challenges that you faced in Fayette County that, uh--I know there were re, redistrict, redistricting issues, there were funding issues, uh--

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about how redistricting caused tension with the community because parents invested in real estate in school districts of choice. He talks about his efforts to gain support from the community by changing redistricting to include a student continuation plan. He talks about implementing a differentiated funding model. He talks about the cultural and institutional friction of implementing changes and the improved academic performance that resulted.

Keywords: Differentiated funding; Kindergarten; Student continuation plan

Subjects: Education.

00:48:25 - The educational culture and minorities

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Partial Transcript: Why don't you give a little bit of background, um, just for, for the sake of context. Was there a problem in the culture with um, teachers being racist?

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about how minorities were excluded from school management before his tenure, and how that created an environment of tension. He says that minority students can learn at high levels. He talks about his efforts to open inclusion for the minority community. He emphasizes his focus on the best interest of children.

Keywords: Black Males Working (BMW); It's About Kids; Minorities; Racism

Subjects: African Americans--Education; Public schools.

00:56:42 - It's About Kids

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Partial Transcript: You also understood the--you mentioned the importance of the symbolism, like getting, get--renaming the central office to, It's About Kids Support, uh, Services, and, uh, and you took a bike ride--

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about implementing "It's About Kids" as a theme for the school district and introducing the concept with a two-day bicycle ride to all the schools in the district as a fundraiser. He says the objective was to demonstrate support for schools. He talks about advisory committees, including one composed of students called "Stu's Crew." He characterizes these committees as "feedback loops."

Keywords: Advisory committees; Parent Teacher Association (PTA); Site based councils

Subjects: Public schools.

01:03:34 - Environment after KERA

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Partial Transcript: Do you think that the fact of, of, uh, Kentucky Education Reform Act, uh, having been in place for some years before you came and, and worked as a supervisor in Kentucky aided your work?

Segment Synopsis: Silberman says that the enactment of KERA before his tenure at Daviess County was an advantage to his work. He talks about a similar educational reform movement in Philadelphia which he says faced different challenges due to differences between Kentucky's education associations and Philadelphia teacher unions. He says Kentucky has a long history of education reform at elementary, secondary, and higher levels.

Keywords: Bert Combs; Collective bargaining; Common Core; Daviess County Education Association (DCEA); It's About Kids; Kentucky Education Association (KEA); Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA); Kentucky Educational Television (KET); Senate Bill 1; Standardized testing; Teacher unions; Town hall meetings

Subjects: Kentucky. Education Reform Act (1990)

01:16:32 - Prichard Committee and KERA

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Partial Transcript: When did you become aware of the work that the Prichard Committee was doing?

Segment Synopsis: Silberman says his first awareness of the Prichard Committee's work was reading about the committee's work with KERA before he moved to Kentucky. He says he read about CIPL when he was superintendent at Daviess County. He talks about his first introduction to Bob Sexton. He talks about witnessing the changes achieved by CIPL training and becoming loyal to the Prichard Committee's work.

Keywords: Bob Sexton; Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership (CIPL); Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA); Morton Holbrook; Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

Subjects: Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

01:21:12 - Bob Sexton as colleague

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Partial Transcript: Did you become a close colleague of Bob Sexton's before, uh, uh, you moved to Lexington?

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about developing a relationship with Bob Sexton and other members of the Prichard Committee which was more professional than social. He talks about his support of the Prichard Committee through work with CIPL. He talks about his own leadership of the committee after Bob Sexton's death.

Keywords: Beverly Raimondo; Cindy Heine; Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership (CIPL)

Subjects: Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence; Sexton, Robert F.

01:25:17 - Silberman taking the executive role

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, why don't, why don't we do that and then maybe if we, if we have the opportunity I can go back and I can ask a few follow up questions at the end.

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about being approached to serve as executive director of the Prichard Committee after his retirement as Fayette County superintendent. He says that under his leadership as executive director the committee has increased its legislative initiative. He talks about the strong reputation of the Prichard Committee. He talks about initiating a social media operation at the committee.

Keywords: Bob Sexton; Cindy Heine; Harvey Wilkerson; International Business Machine (IBM); LinkedIn; Social media; Twitter

Subjects: Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

01:35:23 - Learning curve in joining the committee

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Partial Transcript: You talked about how you have to--whenever you shift positions even if you had some mastery before you kind of become a novice again.

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about the learning curve in beginning a new career role, and learning about educational policy after joining the committee. He talks about recruiting members to the committee.

Keywords: Bridgette Ramsey; Cindy Heine; Perry Papka

Subjects: Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

01:39:13 - The Prichard Committee's national role / national standards

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Partial Transcript: A, and would you reflect on the Prichard Committee's role nationally in, uh, education reform?

Segment Synopsis: Silberman says that Kentucky's national role in education reform was stronger after the passage of KERA than it is currently. He says Kentucky is a leader in implementing common core standards and that educators from other states approach him for advice on implementing standards and reform. He talks about the need to pay teachers a professional wage. He says KERA placed Kentucky at the forefront of educational reform nationally.

Keywords: Charter schools; Common Core; Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA); Ready Kentucky; Senate Bill 1; Teacher effectiveness

Subjects: Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

01:46:55 - Life threatening bicycle accident

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Partial Transcript: So in 2006 you were in--you had a life threatening accident on your bicycle, and you had a long recovery from that...

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about the changes in his work routine after suffering life-threatening injuries in a bicycle accident. He talks about his personal recovery from the accident.

Keywords: Hip replacement; Pain medication; Physical training

Subjects: Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

01:53:31 - Litigation over school administration

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Partial Transcript: Also you had, pretty soon after you started in, uh--being superintendent in Fayette County you had, uh, this innovation of the Booker T. Washington Academy--

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about combining under-performing schools to improve performance. He says the new principal had conflicts with the community which eventually led to his being named as a defendant in litigation with the principal. He talks about the litigious nature of school administration.

Keywords: Busing; Carmen Coleman; Lawsuits; Litigation

Subjects: Public schools.

02:02:26 - State superintendent of the year

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Partial Transcript: I wanted to ask you about your, uh, being named superintendent--state superintendent of the year, and was that two times or three times that that happened?

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about being named superintendent of the year on three occasions by two state educational institutions. He talks about another superintendent implicated in cheating in public schools at Atlanta.

Keywords: Dupree Award; Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA); Kentucky School Board Association (KSBA)

Subjects: Public schools.

02:08:14 - Accolades for the superintendent

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Partial Transcript: Okay, I wanted to read you a little something from the Herald Leader. Marlene Davis wrote a commentary after you announced that you were going to retire from, from the superintendent position...

Segment Synopsis: Silberman responds with gratitude to an editorial by Marlene Davis praising his work for education reform. He says the success was a result of teamwork. He talks about the success of the education reform efforts in Lexington and Fayette County.

Keywords: Bridgette Ramsey; Felicia Cumings-Smith; Tom Shelton

Subjects: Public schools.

02:14:00 - Accepting the directorship of the Prichard Committee

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Partial Transcript: And you, you may have answered this already, um, but, you had made the decision to retire and then you were, you were asked to be the director of the Prichard Committee.

Segment Synopsis: Silberman talks about his reasons for accepting the executive directorship of the Prichard Committee after retiring as Fayette County superintendent. He describes the decision as a matter of fate, and based on his religious faith and intuition.

Keywords: Harvey Wilkerson

Subjects: Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence