Profile

Stuart Silberman

Stu's Crew Is All About Kids by Jay P. Goldman

As a high school chemistry and physics teacher in the mid-1970s, Stu Silberman constantly wondered why most of his students also seemed to be members of the school band.

"It haunted me for a long time, but I was never in a position to do much about it," he says. "I always told the (school) administration that they couldn't schedule band at the same time as my classes."

That was Silberman's back-door introduction to what today is commonly promoted as "brain-based learning," and he is now in the unique role of positioning an entire district's instructional approach on connections intended to stimulate students' cognitive development. As superintendent of the Daviess County Public Schools in Owensboro, Ky., Silberman has attracted wide attention to himself and his system for Graduation 2010, an initiative based on neurological research.

Beginning with the kindergarten classes of four years ago—the district's Class of 2010—every elementary school student receives twice-weekly piano lessons, instruction in a foreign language, lessons in chess and exposure to professional artists. The enhanced curriculum has moved into the district's middle schools, which have had to hire additional foreign language teachers because of the demand. Local businesses and community organizations, asked to adopt a single grade level through the students' 13 years of schooling, pick up some of the tab, while foundation grants underwrite other components.

Although a formal evaluation of the program's academic impact has yet to be completed by nearby Western Kentucky University, Silberman trumpets the value that he sees coming from enriching youngsters' lives in a community where one of three children qualify for the federal lunch program. "At its worst, we've exposed kids to artists, the theater, dance, chess and higher-order thinking skills," he says.

Silberman's notion of child-centered leadership of the school system, located across the Ohio River from Evansville, Ind., is pervasive. His walking mantra, "It's About Kids," shows up on T-shirts distributed each fall to all 1,400 staff members and on business cards, billboards, stationery, bumper stickers, caps and pens. He considers his student advisory group, known as "Stu's Crew," a personal favorite of the 30 constituent committees with whom he meets.

While he views Graduation 2010 as the inspiration of a broad-based steering committee, the superintendent has had a direct hand in its implementation. For instance, when Silberman discovered that most of the district's kindergarten teachers were unable to teach chess to their pupils because they didn't understand the game themselves, he ran several in-service programs to bring them up to speed.

One measure of his desire to stay close to the action is his familiarity to staff, despite the Daviess County's ample size of 10,130 students. "He probably knows every employee in this district, and every child probably knows him as Stu," says school board chair Mary Griffin. "I remember 2 to 3 years ago, a teacher of 30 years here telling me it was the first time she's seen a superintendent in her classroom."

Silberman has done everything in his purview during his six years as superintendent to hold the district's stakeholders to a common purpose that puts students' best interests above others. He is selfless in that pursuit, having annually spurned the school board's intent to give him hefty pay raises beyond the 2-3 percent cost-of-living increases received by all school staff.

Earlier this year, though, his five-member board, wary after nearly losing Silberman to the state education commissioner's job last fall, wasn't buying his personal sacrifice any longer. They forced him to accept a 22 percent salary hike, which boosted his annual pay to $125,000.

But Silberman had his own ace to play. He promptly announced that he would use the extra money—about $13,000 after taxes—to fund college scholarships for six high school seniors who intend to become teachers. What's more, Silberman declared the $2,100 stipends, which will first be awarded next spring, should be available to any worthy student in the county, even those attending the two parochial schools or a third high school in the Owensboro city district.

Asked why he would do that, Silberman extended his usual mantra. "It's about all kids," he said.

Jay Goldman is the editor of The School Administrator. E-mail: jgoldman@aasa.org

BIO STATS:
Stu Silberman

Currently:
superintendent, Daviess County Public Schools, Owensboro, Ky.

Earlier:
deputy superintendent for resource management, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Age:
50

Greatest Influence on Career:
My mom taught me how to respect and value all people and my dad taught me how to be focused and organized.

Best Professional Day:
When the school board approved our Graduation 2010 project where all elementary kids would receive piano lessons, foreign language instruction, exposure to artists, chess instruction and access to nurses in schools. Although not mandated, every school decided to participate.

Books at Bedside:
Winds of Turbulence: A CEO's Reflections on Surviving and Thriving on the Cutting Edge of Corporate Crisis by Howard D. Putnam and Gene Busner and Cigars, Whiskey and Winning: Leadership Lessons from Ulysses S. Grant by Al Kaltman

Biggest Blooper:
While attending a communitywide celebration, I realized after several conversations and downing two hot dogs that I was at the wrong park and the wrong event.

A Reason Why I'm an AASA Member:
AASA provides a great network of administrators, excellent publications and a great Web page full of resources.