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Graves High principal demonstrates value of lifelong learning by earning doctorate

EDUCATION: A FAMILY AFFAIR – Graves County High School principal R.B. Mays poses with his family after the recent Western Kentucky University commencement, where his doctorate was conferred upon him.

Pictured, from left, are his sister, Deena Green, a teacher at Graves County Central Elementary School; Mays; another sister, Tana Jones, Family Resource Center director at Wingo Elementary School, also in Graves County; and their father, Ron Mays, who continues to enjoy a long career at West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corp. “I wish Mom could have seen me finish,” R.B. Mays said of his mother, Norma Mays, who worked for many years in the front office of the school where he earned his first diploma, has taught math, and now leads as principal. He added, “The dedication in the dissertation is to my parents.” He hopes his dedication to lifelong learning inspires his students as well. When he completes his public school career, he hopes to teach at the institution where he earned his bachelor’s and first master’s degree: Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn.

When second-year Graves County High School principal R.B. Mays hands out diplomas to graduates Friday, May 20, they when he tells them it’s necessary to continue their education, he means it. On the previous weekend, he was awarded his doctorate!

The newly-titled Dr. Mays defended his dissertation to finish his work in earning a Ph.D. in K-12 Educational Leadership this semester. The program he completed is a collaborative one between the University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University. Successful candidates may participate in the commencements of either university or both. Mays chose WKU, where he completed most of his course work. The university will conferred the degree upon him officially on May 13.

Based on the School Report Card data, only about 2 percent of all public school teachers hold doctorates. The National Center for Education Statistics says that, nationwide, about 8.4 percent of principals hold doctorates, according to Lisa Gross, director of the Division of Communications and Community Engagement of the Kentucky Department of Education.

A recent edition of the Kentucky Schools Directory lists as many as 15 administrators per district in each of the commonwealth’s 174 districts. Only 15 individual administrators are listed with the title of “Dr.” Nine are superintendents. At least two superintendents hold the title but didn’t list it. Still, doctorates among public school educators continue to be rare.

“I got it for several reasons,” Mays said, “primarily because I felt like it was what I had been given by God the ability to do, and I think I would have always felt like I sold myself and God short, if I did not develop my abilities to their capacity. I was always taught that ‘to whom much is given, much more is required.’ And, I was certainly given many opportunities from a supportive family and many friends, and I have been given many opportunities in the education field to invest in kids. I hope they always see [in me] an example of hard work. [Earning the doctorate is] about endurance and work, not necessarily intelligence. Education opens doors, and I feel like I have the flexibility to stay ‘fresh’ in what I feel the passion to do.”

Mays explained, “My dissertation was titled ‘Comparing Turnaround Leadership in a Rural Church and in Schools.’ Prior to coming home to Graves County, I taught in low-performing schools and was part of efforts to change the direction of student performance and aspirations. I have served as pastor of churches that were in decline when I arrived, and interim pastor of several churches that had gone through splits or crises. I am in a denomination (Cumberland Presbyterian) full of small, dying churches. It is amazing how changing and leading people are the same across contexts, and I hope the study has made me a better leader at GCHS. The measures are different, but the goal of the leader is to inspire others and accomplish organizational goals through people, and those leadership disciplines can inform one another. Ultimately, the goals are accomplished through volunteers – church members or students – and great leaders have to learn how to transform people.”

The Graves County School District employs not only Mays, but also his two sisters. Deena Green is a teacher at Central Elementary School. Tana Jones serves as family resource center director at Wingo Elementary. Their late mother, Norma Mays, worked for many years in Graves County High School’s front office. Their father, Ron Mays, continues to enjoy a long career at West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corp. “The dedication in the dissertation is to my parents, “ R.B. Mays said. “I wish Mom could have seen me finish.”

Besides his profession, education has played a large role for Mays as a student. He earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at Bethel College, now University, in McKenzie, Tenn. He also earned a Master of Divinity degree at Asbury Theological Seminary. His was the second graduating class at GCHS. He had attended high school in his native Wingo, prior to the 1985 consolidation. And, he sees education as continuing to be a large part of his life for years to come.

“Ultimately, I really do not ever see myself retiring,” Mays said. “I love kids and I love teaching, and this should give me opportunities in college education after retirement from public school teaching. This [doctorate] really does meld the aspects of my life together, and someday I would like to pastor, teach, and serve our denomination at Bethel University.”

 


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