By Brett Marshall
It seems like it was inevitable that Renee Scott would make her professional career in education.
After all, both of her parents came from large families where education was not just a priority, but a way of life.
Her father was a coach and teacher. Her mother also completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing, while her stepmother kept the educational aspect alive by being a principal as well. A sister was a school principal, a brother coached as well. Uncles, aunts added into the educational mix of the Flax family way of life. One gets the picture of the educational importance to the Flax family.
“I wanted to be a rebel and at one time never thought I’d be in education,” said Scott, who earlier this year resigned her position as an Assistant Superintendent for USD 457 after accepting the position of superintendent of schools for Atchison USD 409, a Class 4A school in the very northeast corner of Kansas. “So I ended up by studying English and got a degree in education.”
Her early exposure to education included being the editor for her middle school newspaper as well as the editor for the Highland Community College paper. She spent her first three years teaching middle school English and journalism at South Sioux City, Neb., before moving to Dumas, Texas, where she taught for nine years, focusing on middle and high school English and then served as an educational diagnostician.
It was 2003 when she moved to Garden City and was able to secure a job as a long-term substitute while working on a counseling degree.
“That set the foundation for being a good principal,” said Scott, who previously was an assistant principal at Garden City High School before moving to the central office of USD 457 in 2015.
Her educational background is extensive and impressive.
Scott earned an Associate’s degree at Highland Community College, the same town in which she attended high school. Her bachelor’s degree came from Benedictine College in Atchison. Master’s degrees came from West Texas A&M, a Counseling Endorsement from Fort Hays State University and a Leadership certification from Emporia State University. Her PhD through Kansas State University is nearly complete.
She was highly involved in pushing the successful vote in 2008 for a bond that enabled Garden City to construct its $92 million high school as well as another $5 million in improvements at other district schools.
“I think being in the middle of moving all of our educational equipment, materials from one school building to another is an experience I can’t forget,” Scott said. “I think Garden City has been a very progressive community and the school’s growth has reflected that.”
After her nearly decade of time working in Texas, Scott said she thought Kansas was behind the bar in education compared to many other states. Texas, she said, had been one of the early states to adopt AYP, a measurement defined by the United States federal No Child Left Behind Act that allows the U.S. Department of Education to determine how every public school and school district in the country is performing academically according to results on standardized tests.
“As far as teacher training back then, I thought Texas was miles ahead of Kansas,” Scott recalled. “There just seemed like we needed to take a more systematic approach to teaching. I thought it was important for us at the elementary and secondary levels, looking from K-12 as to how our educating the children would truly affect the kids who graduate.”
During her tenure as an assistant principal at GCHS, Scott was heavily involved in drafting the school safety drills for fires and lockdowns.
While working from the central office of 457, Scott has overseen a lot of the day-to-day management to evaluate how teachers are educating the children at every level.
“What are the expectations and how do we provide an excellent environment for our youth,” Scott said of many of her objectives. “Putting boots on the ground to help the students is a main priority.”
Scott is proud of the fact that USD 457 has implemented programs to get greater involvement from the community, and not just parents.
“I think we’ve seen the older generation and the way they were educated make a shift in recent years,” Scott said. “We’ve developed programs for community leadership to see how the school budget works, making tours of schools available, and try to offer opportunities into the system for those who are interested.”
With the explosion of social media, Scott said it had enabled the district to be in much better and more frequent communication with its students, parents and the community at large.
“We’ve done School of the Week features on social media, and we use it a reminder tools to communicate that the community is the stakeholder in how we educate the youth of Garden City,” Scott said. “There’s instant access to grades for parents, we can explain the disciplines that need to be applied and how we can work together better to insure success for the students.”
Scott has experienced both the middle school and high school administrative responsibilities, and said that at the lower level, it seemed like there were fires to put out nearly every day. At the high school level, it was just a lot of steps to get things done, and most days she was running ragged, but in a good way.
“You’re always very busy, there’s not much down time,” Scott said. “For me, it’s been important to support those levels of teachers and empower them and let them go and do their job.”
She’s been involved in nearly all areas of USD 457 administration, developing curriculum and instruction for K-12, technology advancement, special education and curriculum assessment.
Her decision to pursue her doctoral degree about six years ago led her to her current path of becoming the top administrator at Atchison later this summer.
“They are a smaller district, but big enough that it will add to my experience in education,” Scott said of the approximate 1,500 district student enrollment in Atchison. “The biggest thing now is that I will be overseeing personnel. It’s all on me.”
She had high praise for her current boss, Dr. Steve Karlin, Superintendent of Schools for USD 457.
“He’s the one person who is responsible for my growth in education,” she said. “He’s empowered me to make decisions, and also to know that the responsibility rests with me. Decisions need to be made to evaluate the impact it has on everybody involved. He is the ultimate teacher, is always approachable and rarely gets rattled.”
While still working to complete her PhD, Scott said she will be moving to a district that has high socio-economic needs.
“It’s a high poverty district and I think that’s one of the challenges I will enjoy,” Scott said. “There are some similarities to Garden City, but yet different, too.”
Scott said she became aware of the opening in Atchison just after the first of the year, quickly putting together her resume to send off. In February she interviewed for the position and was then offered the position. In essence, she will be going back to her roots of northeast Kansas.
“Everything just seemed like a good fit for me,” said Scott, who had three of her children move through the USD 457 system before graduating from GCHS. “It’s been an amazing time here in Garden City. I’m so grateful to so many people who have made my life immeasurably better.”
She cited improvements in the math scores growing at a higher rate than statewide schools as one of her best memories.
“We continue to work on improvement and see the gradual learning curve increase from K-9,” she said. “Graduation rates at Garden City High School has increased. Since I started in education, requirements have changed dramatically. The accountability needs to remain high, and I think we have many multiple measures to effectively evaluate how successful we are.”
With the 2018-19 school year nearly at a close, Scott will spend the next few weeks tying up loose ends, clearing out her office, packing and getting ready to make the several hundred mile move to Atchison.
“A lot of good things have happened for me here, and I think USD 457 has been a place to refine my experience to put me in this position,” Scott said. “I’m sure I will miss many things about Garden City. But I’m so excited to be able to have this chance in Atchison. I cannot express my gratitude enough to the people I’ve worked for, and worked with.”