Dr. Mike Stacy is currently the superintendent at Beechwood Independent Schools in northern Kentucky. (This is his sixth year in this position). During his educational career, he’s had the opportunity to be an administrator at the building level (elementary, middle school, high school) and the district office. During his 20 years as an administrator, he’s enjoyed a lot of different aspects of his work, but coaching principals is what he loves most.

Daniel: 10 episodes. I talked to a chancellor, Chancellor Gilliam, of a major university. He's in the North Carolina system and he told a story of meeting a kid. A student of his on campus who's showing up just with the luggage and talking to her. And what's her story. Coming to find out that she's the first one in her family to go to college. He's talking about, "Oh, when they come into pick you up again" and "will they come to this event, that event," she's like, "no, they'll come in four years." For him, in that moment, he saw, "Whoa, this is a first-generation college student that is literally just dropped off on campus and only has herself right now to navigate, uh, this college experience. 10 episodes later in this episode, I get to talk with somebody I deeply respect in our industry, Dr. Mike Stacy. I find out through our conversation that was him. Now, not the same, his family didn't drop him off and never visit again in four years. But he was a first generation college student, and now he leads an incredible district there in Northern Kentucky. We get to hear a bit about that story. I'm excited to have that conversation and bring you into that moment.

Daniel: Mike is really great with leadership and we're going to hear so many valuable ideas from a high, high level superintendent seat. The way he ends the podcast is powerful. I haven't heard what makes a principal successful distilled like that before. You'll want to stick around to the end. Hey, it's Daniel, and welcome to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast. A show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. We'll be right back after these messages from our show sponsors

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Daniel: All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn more at organizedbinder.com. Hey, there Ruckus Makers. I am joined today by Dr. Mike Stacy. He's somebody that I've connected with in the past and truly enjoy our conversations. We are very lucky to have him on the show. He's currently the superintendent at Beachwood Independent Schools in Northern Kentucky. This is his six year in the position. During his educational career, he's had the opportunity to be an administrator at the building level, including elementary, middle, and high school, and the district office during his 20 years as an administrator, he's enjoyed a lot of different aspects of his work, but coaching principals is what he loves most. Dr. Stacy, welcome to the show. All right. Thank you for having me, Dan. Absolutely.

Daniel: I'd like to start knowing that you are a first generation college student and just what that experience is like landing on campus and all the things that other families and students might know if there's sort of like a legacy student that they're parents and their grandparents all went to college, but for you, this is the first time stepping on campus. Tell us what that was like.

Dr Mike : Yeah. As a first generation college student, uh, it was scary. I mean, to be honest with you, and on top of that, I was a jock. I'll never forget my senior year of high school. My counselor told me, "Mike, just find something easy to major in and maybe you'll make it." So you have those doubts and those fears, uh, in your mind. Will I fit in? Will I be able to find and major in? Just that anxiety, uh, was always present, uh, especially out of the gate.

Daniel: Yeah. I can only imagine how tough that is too. Did you pick education right out of the right out of the gate for you? Did you eventually end up there?

Dr Mike : No, I did not. I picked pharmacy right out of the Gates, and then I met organic chemistry and then I changed. I went through about seven majors, uh, and eventually, uh, just found classes that resonated with me. Communications was one of them. I'm a communications major. I really got into the social sciences. I'm also a sociology major. And then I have a natural love of history. I ended up with a history minor and all of those put together do a great job, getting you a job, working tables at O' Charlies. I had to go back on a career change from law enforcement. My lovely wife eventually had an impact on me and I went back and became a education major through a master's degree program.

Daniel: If I remember correctly, were you a history teacher? Is that right?

Dr Mike : I was. I really enjoy content and I miss that tremendously in my current position and that's why I still hop in and teach a class every now and then.

Daniel: That's what I wanted to ask about. I thought I've seen you talk about that on Twitter, where you'll still teach some history courses. What's that like and how do you figure that out? What's your motivation to do so? Let me ask you that.

Dr Mike : My motivation, I used to teach college courses and those were really celebrated for a superintendent or a leader to teach a college course. It was almost in some ways, a negative connotation for many people that I would ever decide to teach a high school course, but my motivation is simple, the kids are great. They are so much easier to work with than adults. To have that connection with them, in my current position, is something that I don't take lightly. Obviously, I can't do it every year, but I do teach AP European history from time to time. Number one, I enjoy the content and number two, it keeps me really engaged and present with what kids are feeling or seeing or experiencing during the school year. Finally, it just keeps me engaged professionally with exactly why I do what I do.

Daniel: Right. When you teach those courses, do you have to go in like Undercover Boss and you wear some sort of disguise and you're just Mr. Stacy or even a name change? Do you go it as the Superintendent?

Dr Mike : Yeah. Danny, I'm 6' 7 and a really big guy in a lot of places. I don't have a lot of classroom management issues. I mean, that's true. To my students, I'm just Doc, they call me Doc. The first month usually they're really quiet and it takes me about this time of the year to get them to loosen up to actually, and start looking at perspective and narrative and the bigger picture stuff that we really want kids to glean from their, uh, history courses.

Daniel: Tell us about opening up. Keep in mind too, we do have classroom teachers that are listening, but the majority of listeners that we call Ruckus Makers, those that are making change in education and thinking out of the box ways. How might they apply potentially what you use with students in terms of getting their staff to even open up?

Dr Mike : As far as the reopening of schools after the pandemic?

Daniel: No, no, I'm thinking more because you're talking about, I think the students and how they're a bit quiet because Doc is standing there teaching them. Right. A few months later they're like, "Okay, relaxed and they let their true selves, be seen. Opening up in that way.

Dr Mike : Relationships are definitely a key from a leadership standpoint regardless of whether you're in the classroom or in the front office or even at the district level. It's just for me personally, my strength in the classroom comes from those relationships and building and understanding kids both inside and outside of the classroom and what makes them tick and that kind of day-to-day banter. I really approach my students very much the same way I do my staff. You have to have a relationship with someone before you can truly get to the level both academically, conversationally, professionally from an outcome standpoint, across the board. That is one of my pillars for education.

Daniel: I love this quote by Derek Sivers, "What's ordinary to use extraordinary to me." I'm curious if there's a tool or an approach that could be coined the Dr. Mike Stacy approach? The one thing that you're going to do to build those relationships. Again, it might seem very average and ordinary, but for us hearing it, it probably is something very special and unique. What would that one tool or approach be that helps you build those relationships?

Dr Mike : It's probably more from an emotional intelligence standpoint than it is any other. I need to know what makes you tick, as a person. I need to know what you love. I need to know what you hate. I need to know what makes you excited. I need to know what makes you nervous. The better I know you as an individual and as a human being, then the easier it is for me to connect to you as a person. From an educational standpoint, from a relation standpoint that's a tool I use a lot. It's just emotional, from the emotional intelligence, I know more about you than any other aspects. I don't know if that would be appropriate or even something that everyone would be able to do, but for me, that's what I need.

Daniel: I think that's great. We read emotional intelligence 2.0 in the Mastermind. Some of the research that they've done on the highest performers, the leaders that have the most impact also have the highest developed emotional intelligence. Whether that's a knowing of self, which is the internal look or what you're talking about, an external look and understanding of what makes those around you and those you serve, as you say, tick. That's incredibly, incredibly important. I think not only knowing that builds the relationship, but it builds trust as well.

Dr Mike : I think that you're right, it's a marriage between the external and the internal, because I've got to change my internal from kid to kid based on what I'm learning externally. Grade book, you probably saw me look away and that book was laying on my desk. It's a great book, a great read and something that I think is completely underestimated within our profession.

Daniel: Speaking of that, is there a way we can test for emotional intelligence as leaders? The interview process is so high stakes in the sense, um they come into the district and hopefully you've made the right choice and made a good investment. Are comfortable speaking about in terms of how you look for that within an interview process?

Dr Mike : I've always been told I'm a good interview, right? Let me restate, from an equity standpoint, I do always have a set of questions. I ask the same questions of all the applicants. However, there are tangents that we run and there are absolutely questions that have nothing to do with education. I don't know whether they're great or not, but most educators aren't trained as to interview people. We don't go through the processes, we don't go through the training and I've been lucky to have some connection with some of those trainings from the business world. I probably interview a little bit differently. I ask questions like, "If you were a literary character who would you be and why?" Different things. I also have questions that there are no right or wrong answer to and I just want to see what happens when you put out a question that really has no right or wrong, just to see their process of working their way through that question. Other than that I am aware of some processes for personality to try to bring out personalities to be able to put into a job. I have not been formally trained on some of those.

Daniel: Gotcha. I'd like to loop back with being a first-generation college student and fast forward from that time to then sitting in the superintendency, running the district. What are some of those lessons you learned back as a first generation student that you apply now as a leader of an entire district?

Dr Mike : The first one would be just be resiliency. One thing that you learn in any position when you're an underdog, is that you have to be persistent and you have to hold tight. Hurdles are going to come. Obstacles are going to come. There are going to be times where you think that you're out of the picture but you just have to stick with the whole process and be resilient, no matter what comes your way. That was the lesson number one. Lesson number two is, don't let fear and your own self doubt take away a goal that you have for yourself or anyone else. Many times I think kids coming in and may be in an underdog background they almost limit themselves based on fear and the worry that they won't be successful.

Daniel: Number 3 learn and watch. Get with people who are successful and watch what they do . It's shocking and how many social norms are present that may be people from my area of Kentucky or people from different aren't trained to do certain thing the same and it makes you feel inadequate. Your accent, the way you speak can make you feel inadequate. For me, it was being around a great group of guys and girls and really learning from them and watching them. Being able to almost mimic what made the successful.

Daniel: Mike, I'd like to pause here just for a moment for a message from our sponsors, but when we get back I'd love to ask you about principal development a topic that you and I are passionate about. Learn how to successfully navigate, change, shape your school's success, and empower your teams with Harvard certificate in school management and leadership program. Get online professional development that fits your schedule. We're now enrolling for February and June, 2021 courses include leading change leading schools and leading people applied today at hgse.me/leader. That's hgse.me/leader. Better Leaders, Better Schools is brought to you by school leaders like Principal Guterras, using Teach FX. Special populations benefit the most from verbally engaging in class, but get far fewer opportunities to do so than their peers, especially in virtual classes. Teach FX measures, verbal engagement automatically in virtual or in-person classes to help schools and teachers address these issues of equity during COVID. Learn more and get a special offer from Better Leaders, Better Schools, listeners teachfx.com/BLBS. That's teachfx.com/BLBS.

Daniel: Today's show is brought to you by Organized Binder. Organized Binder develops the skills and habits all students need for success. During these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings. Organized Binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed, whether at home or in the classroom. Learn more at organizedbinder.com. We're back with Dr. Mike Stacy, the superintendent at Beachwood Independent Schools in Northern Kentucky. I saw you replied to a tweet I don't even know I was talking about. Something about leadership development. You said something that caught my eye, and I wanted to ask you about that. I'd love to hear about principal development in sort of systems and how you can do that or intentionally within our district.

Dr Mike : Yeah. I enjoyed your tweet. I can't remember exactly what it said, uh, but it was about the need for developing principals and that hit, that resonated with me because I think the number one job in all of education, the most important job in all of education, for me personally, is the building level principal. There's no doubt that a teacher impacts a kid more than anyone, but a building level principal impacts every teacher, every student directly. As a district leader, if I have great principals, then I am golden. Life is great. If I have weak, uh, principals, then my workload increases a lot. If I have bad principals, I've got major problems and it doesn't matter how good I am, uh, as a superintendent. So that whole process of training, developing, tapping talents, and trying to work with them through that growth process may be in my opinion, the most important thing I do as a district leader.

Daniel: Yeah. If I was a new principal to your district, what might be some things that I could expect, uh, from you and your team in terms of supporting my growth?

Dr Mike : One which you would either love or hate, uh, is a weekly conversation, not from a micromanaging standpoint, but just a check-in, "how are you doing what's what's going well? What are you worried about, uh, from a strategic planning standpoint? What are you preparing to do in the future?" Those questions to give the principal or assistant principal, I meet with APS from a development standpoint. I just want to see their thought process. I just want to us to be able to coach or guide them. At this point in my career, I'm more interested in that than I am about putting a knots on my own belts. My time's getting more short, but they still have decades of impacting kids and adults.

Daniel: Thanks for that, Mike. Obviously I'm very passionate about principal development. Your wife, your partner, Melody's been a purple cow for years now and brings so much value to our group. I think this is interesting opportunity for me because I don't know that I've spoken to somebody's partner, their husband, wife to what they've observed, in terms of the impact that the group might have had on their leadership. I'd love to ask you how you've seen Melody grow over the last couple of years.

Dr Mike : Yeah, that's an interesting question. Number one, and I think you do know this, uh, I have been jealous of that process. I actually talked to you about trying to get a superintendent cohort together for that very purpose. Number one, I think it's important to have an external group. As much as I try to work with my principals and my assistant principals to try to grow them and just be a support to them. I also think there's sometimes that they don't want to ask me questions so it's great to have an external group. Number one, I would say, "I'm jealous of that opportunity." Number two, I'm always asking her questions. "Okay. So what are you doing? Try to walk me through the process? How does it go because I'm curious." I know a lot from our discussions, I like the hot seat.

Dr Mike : I liked that you do a learning component to the call. I think that is so important to maintain that opportunity. What I've really appreciated, just as a viewer, is her growing relationships with people in the group and the fact that they check in and have conversations outside of the typical one call a week that you do with them. And that to me means that you have been successful in putting some kind of opportunity in front of them because it's developed that trust and that relationship that they are connecting even outside of the weekly phone call. Honestly, I'm a fan. I think as superintendents, we don't do that enough. There is a value from verbalizing with a peer, your successes, your losses, your fears, your worries, what keeps you up at night and we never get good enough that we don't need a connection to someone else to talk through those situations.

Daniel: Thank you. That was very generous. What you shared is a first for me on the podcast and appreciate you giving those insights. I'd love to get your high level overview or reflection on 2020, which was a challenging year for education in schools for the world. I would love to see from your seat, what is some of the things that you're pondering and thinking about in terms of the state of education regarding the pandemic?

Dr Mike : That's a heavy question right there. Danny, number one, I think that I have been impressed by the resiliency of kids across the board. Number two, teachers have really maintained in most districts such a high level of work ethic can so much effort and time has gone into changing platforms really overnight, and then going into a summer of really trying to piece exactly what's going to happen together and plan. And to be able to come into a semester and many districts have to run two systems of warning and some systems I've heard of three that they've had to do that. That is impressive within itself. What keeps me up at night and I want to celebrate that, but I'm over here on the other side, what keeps me up at night is the fact that many of our students have not received the level of education that they need for nine months.

Dr Mike : Eventually it could be a year and three months that they've lost. We know there's going to be, uh, gaps that are present. Many systems, they just don't have the educational systems and platforms in place to catch kids up when they're behind. Especially the vast numbers that are going to be coming back with some needs as far as needing to catch up on content that keeps me up. I'm really worried, uh, social, emotional issues were a major problem, um, before this all hits. Based on what I see in parking lots across America, adults are having some issues with the whole issue. I think that can only be assumed from students. Our kids have been stressed, they watch their parents stress over a health issue. Number two over finances, a number three over other problems with family. Those domino effects are coming back into our public schools across the United States. I think all of those three go together to put a really new crisis in the face of most superintendents and principals and teachers across the United States.

Daniel: With that crisis we'll be dealing with and knowing that you're talking to a Ruckus Maker listening right now, what would you tell him or her? Give them a booster, a shot in the arm. Boost their inspiration.

Dr Mike : Number one, most educators have never really failed. We're not going to fail in this time either. What I'm working on with our people is to lean into that challenge. We have to lean into the challenge. We can't set back or worry about not being successful. The whole aspect of doing something that you've never done before is to take risks, to take chances and then to evaluate if something's not working, let's throw it aside and come back. I just don't want to approach school. I don't want any Ruckus Maker to approach school, uh, and think that this is a problem that we can't solve.

Daniel: Speaking of messages, if you could put a message on all school marquees around the world, just for a day, what would your marquee say?

Dr Mike : That is easy. Actually the best softball you've asked me all day, "Lives are changed beyond these walls." Especially as someone like me who education gave access to a whole new opportunity, that is absolutely the message that I would want to put out and that lives have changed. It's not just one group of lives. It's any life has the potential to be changed beyond these walls.

Daniel: Mike, if you were building a school from the ground up, you weren't limited by any resources, your only limitation was your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?

Dr Mike : That's an interesting, so for me experiential learning. When kids touch, when kids experience, when kids become fully engaged, in a process. When they learn from my experience. I would not want traditional barriers to exist from work. The business world, the university world, I would want all of them in the processes, that we were putting place in ordering. Uh, I would also not have a traditional seven period five days a week of moving around. It would be much more flexible and that would increase space and need of staff. I think that if we can move more away from a road schedule we would be better off as far as some of our capabilities of design and designing curriculum that was more experientially based.

Dr Mike : Finally, I would have to have some kind of really cool brands that I would be able to a visual and written a word message because that brand, I would want that brand to really resonate throughout the not only the, my state or the region, but the whole United States and that we do things differently in this building. My three priorities. Okay. So a written and verbal communication, I think, can not be under, uh, estimated, uh, or undervalued. The better a person can communicate, um, both verbally and from a written standpoint to the more opportunities that they can get on their own. I think the other one would be equity. I've never taken an AP course myself have never been offered an advanced track myself because I came from one area of the County.

Dr Mike : And because I was an athlete, I was automatically put into certain areas. I think the ability for any kid, any kid to have access to that warning platform, uh, would be, uh, a requirement for me. Finally, anyone who worked in that facility would be required. That would be a mandate, uh, that they travel and they evaluate other schools and other programs, not only across the United States, but across the world, because until you really get out and watch how other people do this job, you really don't have the professional development that I would want you to have in this new school.

Daniel: Yeah. I really, I love all your points, but so much resonate with that. Last one is , living around the world, uh, how that's opened my eyes and helped me see. Maybe my way is not the right way or the only way. It's definitely, helped me become a better person. Thank you for everything you shared there. Well, Mike, thanks for being a part of the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast. We talked about a lot, but of everything we talked about, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?

Dr Mike : I could pass along one thing, um, it would be that everybody tells the principal, they have to be the curriculum lead. I don't disagree with that, but for me, I tell every principal, every one who wants to become a principal, there are three things that you have to do. After 20 years of mentoring principals and working with principals and watching who's successful, and who's not, it's not personality driven. It's not male to female driven. In my past. It's been people who can do these three things, relationship who can build great relationships, who can stay consistent up on the best day and the worst day. I mean, just so consistent, uh, and number three produce. I always tell principals before you can get to all the things that say they want you to do gotta build relationships. You gotta find a way to be consistent, and you have to find what product this one school needs you to put on the table. If you do those three things well, in my experience, you'll be a successful principal.

Daniel: Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter at @alienearbud. If the better leaders better schools, podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter @alienearbud and using the hashtag #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.

Daniel: [inaudible].

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Show Highlights

  • 3 lessons being a 1st generation college student teaches about leading an entire district  
  • Systematic principal development within the district
  • How we will get learning get caught up
  • The right formula of leadership  
  • Getting your students and staff to let their true selves be seen
  • An underestimated tool in our profession to  build relationships
  • Interview questions that bring out personalities to be able to put into a job. 
  • How to lean into challenge and support new principal growth
Dr Mike Stacy: 1st generation college student becomes superintendent

“The number one job in all of education, the most important job in all of education is the building level principal. There’s no doubt that a teacher impacts a kid more than anyone, but a building level principal impacts every teacher, every student directly.” 

Dr. Mike Stacy

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