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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Career in Student Service: Jamee Flaherty Looks Ahead to Next School Year in Fort Thomas

Jamee Flaherty, assistant superintendent for student services at Fort Thomas schools

A passion for service and a desire to support others in their quest for understanding has fueled much of Jamee Flaherty’s career.

Flaherty, who took over in 2017 as assistant superintendent for student services at the Fort Thomas Independent School District, says her "inner core" has always focused on serving others. Education has offered her an opportunity to pay it forward by fostering a commitment to learning in students.

"Going back to my high school days, I always gravitated toward working with children," she said. "I went into education as a career knowing that truly it was for the love of the experience and not for anything else."

Serving students in Fort Thomas is a great fit, she says. "I very much value the community involvement here, the support that our parents offer as well as the students who are always engaged and committed to striving for their best and working toward success."

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Building a career in service

A native of Cynthiana, Kentucky, her first teaching job was in a kindergarten classroom in Fayette County. After marrying in 2001, she moved to Northern Kentucky and had her first experience in Fort Thomas Schools. She took a teaching position at Johnson Elementary.

While at Johnson, she took advantage of leadership opportunities whenever they became available, serving on committees and volunteering for districtwide projects. When an opportunity to move into an administrative role came along in 2007, she took it, becoming a principal in the Beechwood School District in Fort Mitchell. In her last year at Beechwood, she became director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

In a small district, one wears many hats, she said, and so the experience prepared her for a future in administration. In 2015 she had the opportunity to "come home" to Fort Thomas and to Johnson Elementary as principal. Her combined experience as teacher and administrator prepared her for her newest position in charge of student services for the district.

Serving the whole student

In her role, Flaherty provides input and guidance in everything from residency, tuition, safety and transportation issues to programs such as special education, gifted and talented and ELL [English Language Learners].

"I am responsible for looking at the district's prospective of how best to run the schools efficiently," she said. In other words, she provides the district-level input for most of the day-to-day service needs of students and their families.

One area she does not handle directly is that of curriculum, teaching and learning. That area belongs to her colleague Bill Bradford, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. Flaherty and Bradford work together with Superintendent Karen Cheser on the larger issues and concerns of the district as a whole.

"The three of us communicate regularly both in passing and in formal meetings. But when I speak about my team, I typically would include all of the building level administration as well as other central office staff," she said.

She relies heavily on the input and expertise provided by staff. For example, she said, Jerry Wissman is the director of facilities and oversees building and campus construction and related issues. Yet, in a project such as the upcoming Johnson Elementary school remodel, she will work hand-in-hand with Wissman to ensure facilities meet the needs of all learners.

As a member of the leadership team, she has been involved in all the major projects affecting the district this year. The Johnson Elementary remodel is close to her heart. "As a past teacher and administrator of that building, I understand the dire need of a new building there. Being an open campus, Johnson does offer some safety challenges as well as the challenges of an aging building."

Ensuring a safe and engaging student experience

School safety is high on Flaherty’s list of priorities going forward. "We want to ensure that all of our students feel safe. In every building, on every campus. And in order to do that, we must be reflective of our current practices and determine where we have our strengths and weaknesses. We need to identify where we have potential to grow and change in order to ensure that we are doing the best we can to provide a safe environment for our students."

In that regard, she says, she has ongoing conversations with teachers, administrators and parents about topics ranging from actual building design and safety to bullying and how best to protect the emotional safety of students. She recently was involved in a project to measure student resiliency in an effort to identify and help students who may need support.

Flaherty says she is excited about the Portrait of a Graduate work and was fortunate to join a team who traveled to Minnesota to gather information on successful school programs earlier this year.

"We continually need to challenge our students and make sure that we are researching and invested in cutting edge practices in education and innovative tools. And so with our experiences here with the Portrait of a Graduate, Dr. Cheser has guided us through a yearlong process to really define what a graduating senior should know, do and be like."

In the end, she says, the work identifies skills that can be measured to help ensure the district is truly engaging and challenging students and fostering creativity, curiosity and innovation.

Looking forward to 2018-19

As Johnson construction gets underway and the Portrait of a Graduate project continues, Flaherty is looking toward some new projects.

One is to create a more welcoming environment for parents new to the Fort Thomas school system. "I do feel like we have a disconnect between existing families in our district and community and those coming in new to Fort Thomas."

To create a more welcoming and less confusing environment for newcomers, she says the district will provide onboarding opportunities at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. "We want to provide opportunities so our parents can build relationships within the school and the community…There have been small building-level presentations in the past, but we will now be doing something district wide."

Flaherty has also been involved in the Victoria Fellows, a state-level opportunity for administrators to meet and collaborate with others in the state working in support of gifted and talent students. The Fellows advocate with legislators for support of these students. She says she hopes this will continue to be an ongoing effort for the district.

Breaking down barriers

Whether it’s providing a safe environment, offering innovative opportunities or simply welcoming new families to the community, Flaherty says breaking down barriers to learning is key.

"I feel like one of my primary responsibilities now and always as a teacher is to reduce barriers — that extra noise that a student may have so that student can find success in the classroom. My job is no different now than what is was 20 years ago, it’s just in a different capacity."

While charged with seeing the big picture for the district, Flaherty says her decisions are grounded in the fact that they impact individual students and families. When asked about her strengths as an administrator, she says her ability to apply decisions with consistency and fairness has been a key skill.

"Those are always valuable characteristics to have but especially in the role that has been defined by this position. It’s ever more important to be consistent and fair with each situation."

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