Kevin McGowan, superintendent of the Brighton Central School District in Rochester, N.Y., has been named the National Superintendent of the Year, considered the most prestigious award for district leaders.
McGowan has led the New York district for 14 years, since 2009, a particularly long tenure for superintendents. During his tenure, he has advocated for changes to state funding formulas for schools and the need for anti-racist curriculum, according to The Democrat & Chronicle.
During a panel of the finalists for the Superintendent of the Year award in January, hosted by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, McGowan said he’s seen increased politicization of education issues drive away qualified teacher candidates. He also sees every day the impact the rhetoric has on students.
“It’s affecting students when their identity, their humanity, who they are, where they come from, what they believe in, and essentially who they are as a human being is being questioned by individuals,” McGowan said during the event in Washington. “Everything we do as a school district is a learning opportunity for our students. I hope what they’re learning is the courage of school boards and of superintendents who are respectfully listening to different conversations and trying to find space in the middle, not a space that covers up the humanity of an individual.”
During the panel, when asked what part of public education is most in need of change, McGowan said it is imperative that districts remember they are responsible for educating individual students, rather than thinking of their student body as a collective.
The impact of the pandemic really underscored that every child is unique and needs different things to succeed, McGowan said.
“The pandemic reminded us that we really need to think about the access every child has to resources, rigorous coursework, and technology,” McGowan said. “We have to revisit our policies and strategies so we’re answering that question every single day: What would we want for our own children, and how are we … breaking down barriers for every child?”
McGowan is also the president of the New York State Council of Superintendents.
Finalists for the award are chosen from winners of the state superintendent of the year contests. They’re evaluated on four criteria: how their creative leadership meets students’ needs, communication skills, professionalism, and community involvement.
A $10,000 scholarship is given in the winner’s name to a student attending the high school from which the superintendent graduated or a school serving the same area.
The other finalists were PJ Caposey of Meridian Community Unit School District in Illinois, Matthew Hillmann of Northfield Public Schools in Minnesota, and Trent North of the Douglas County School System in Georgia.
AASA, the School Superintendents’ Association, made the announcement Feb. 16 at its conference in Austin, Texas.