The Highest Calling

The Highest Calling

Jack Moreland, Superintendent, Covington (Ky.) Public Schools

Chapter One When Jack Moreland retired in 1998, he certainly could look back on his career in Kentucky with pride and satisfaction. Except he's been too busy.

The ascent was quick for a man raised on a tobacco farm by parents without education past eighth grade. In 1970, Dayton High School hired him to teach science. Three years later, he was named the junior high principal. By 1978, he was superintendent.

Moreland hit the national radar in the 1980s when he, along with his peers in the Council for Better Education, sued the state and won, changing its school funding formula to better benefit the disadvantaged. Instrumental in the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, Moreland prompted the legislature to pass a $1.3 billion tax increase.

Some school boards would shrink from his vigor.

The chance to view education from a totally different mountain, as interim president at Northern Kentucky Univer-sity, came next. A year later, the state selected him to negotiate a tricky technical and community college system merger. Then the 52-year-old retired.

Chapter Two Moreland doesn't really have a hobby. He likes yard work, but battling crab grass during his retirement failed to distract him. He kept reinventing education on his lawn mower.

Soon after his retirement, Moreland attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting and joked that he "was wearing long pants for the first time in weeks." Perhaps his voice gave away his discontent because a job offer ensued. Retirement time: less than six weeks. But Moreland was not heading back to school.

Chapter Three For two years, Moreland directed human resources for Radac Corp. He was acutely missing education. Covington Independent School District, an urban district of about 4,365 students, was also missing something.

"We were desperately lacking in leadership," recalls James Vogt, Covington's school board chairman.

In 2000, the state put five of the district's 12 schools on academic emergency status. Then, before the school year was finished, the superintendent resigned. Moreland came on as interim superintendent, and six months later the job was his.

"You could see he relished the challenge," Vogt recalls. But this was not one-sided. Moreland is self-admittedly outspoken, and some boards would shrink from his vigor.

"I think he is dogged, determined. He will jump in and try to make it happen, which creates tension sometimes," says Vogt, noting that the board knew what it was, and will be, getting. Moreland's contract has been renewed for four more years. Meanwhile, he continues to rally for state attention on education. "I am kind of in a mindset of getting as much done as possible before I retire." If he can retire.

In Covington, Moreland has added all-day kindergarten, aligned curriculum, and most importantly, helped pull the five problem schools out of emergency status.

Funding is still a major problem. Last year began with a $2 million budget deficit. It has been whittled to $1.4 million but remains a big headache for the district. In response to widespread budget difficulties, Moreland and other state school leaders have resurrected the Council for Better Education.

The council is currently pushing the state to increase its spending on education, and it contends the state is not living up to its obligations in the earlier reform act. There's talk of another lawsuit. Moreland recently took a break from leading the group, however, to try to crack the nut from a different angle.

Gubernatorial candidate Ben Chandler, a Democrat in his first bid for governor, has snagged Moreland to co-chair his education committee.

Chapter Four Five years post-"retirement," Jack Moreland is hardly battling the has-beens. He is, in fact, being feted. Peers choose him to be Kentucky's 2003 Superintendent of the Year.

Jack Moreland's career is like an odyssey; the chapters just keep coming. It is a multi-volume set.

Amy D'Orio is a contributing editor.


Advertisement