KCPS superintendent to retire early; Couch’s last day is June 30

ROCK HALL — Kent County schools chief Karen Couch announced Monday night at the regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting that she would retire at the end of June, one year before the completion of a third contracted full term.

She said she was doing so with “gratitude and mixed emotions.”

Couch’s retirement was among personnel actions that the board approved in open session on the consent agenda.

During the preceding closed session when personnel were discussed, Couch presented the board with a two-page written letter of retirement.

Couch publicly announced her early retirement during her superintendent’s report, reading from a prepared script.

“Serving the students and families of Kent County has been one of the greatest honors of my professional life, and for that, I am eternally grateful,” Couch said.

The full text of Couch’s letter can be found on the Kent County Public Schools’ website, www.kent.k12.md.us.

During board discussion, which immediately followed the superintendent’s report on Monday’s agenda, each of the five elected board members and the student member of the board thanked Couch for her service to Kent County Public Schools.

“I want to thank Dr. Couch for all of her hard work in this community and in our schools,” said student member Madison Messick, a Kent County High School senior, who was the first to speak.

“Education is a big passion of mine and I see that is also a big passion for Dr. Couch in all of her work and in her administrators and her staff and in all the hard work that you guys do.

“And I cannot say enough how lucky I am to have gotten an education here. I am so privileged. I have been given so many great opportunities. I am so proud of our community and our schools, as I feel like I’ve said multiple times,” Messick said.

Looking at Couch, Messick added, “I’m kind of sad to see you go. I’m so grateful that you were here. So, thank you.”

At the direction of Joe Goetz, who unanimously was re-elected president during the board reorganization as the first order of business in open session, the board agreed to meet Tuesday, Jan. 23 to discuss how it will go about conducting its search for a new superintendent.

The meeting — 5:30 p.m. at the central office headquarters in Rock Hall — is open to the public, but no public comment will be taken.

Karen Couch,  Ed.D., came to Kent County Public Schools in July 2013 as a former superintendent of the year for the state of New Mexico.

Couch, then 58, was completing her 12th year as superintendent of the Edgewood-Moriarty School District in New Mexico, located less than an hour east of Albuquerque. The district consisted of five elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school, with a total student count of about 3,200.

In Kent County, she was inheriting a shrinking district of seven schools, including a consolidated middle school and a consolidated high school, where the enrollment continued to decline.

At Couch’s hiring, the student count for 2013-14 was projected to be 2,120.

The current KCPS enrollment is about 1,830.

She also was coming into a financially strapped school system that had among the lowest test scores in the state.

At the time, more than 50 percent of the students here qualified for free or reduced meals, which is an indicator of poverty.

Today, 75% of KCPS students qualified for free or reduced meals.

Couch was one of 19 applicants for a job that became available when Superintendent Barbara Wheeler told the school board in December 2012 that she would retire at the end of her four-year contract in June 2013.

Wheeler also served as interim superintendent when Anthony Pack left unexpectedly in May 2008 after two years into a four-year commitment

Kent’s school board contracted with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education to assist in the search. Jeff Reed, vice president, was the board’s liaison with MABE.

The search consultants designed a process that began with forums in January 2013 to get input from students, parents, teachers and other school system employees, business leaders and other community members about the fundamental characteristics sought in a superintendent — as well as the critical challenges and opportunities facing Kent County and its school system.

This feedback helped to guide the board in developing a job description and position announcement.

All five members of the board — President Bryan Williams, Reed, Michael Harvey, Brian Kirby and Charles “Chic” Prince — reviewed each of the 19 applicants’ resumes. They narrowed the list of candidates to seven who received a first interview.

Five were called back for a second interview.

On May 1, 2013, the board announced its three finalists, who each spent a full day in Kent where they were quizzed by the various stakeholder groups. Stakeholders passed on their impressions to the board.

The board conducted its first interview with Couch using video webcam technology known as Skype. For the second interview, Couch turned down the offer of Skype and paid her own transportation costs to meet face-to-face.

Couch earned an Ed.D. in educational leadership from New Mexico State University, a master’s degree in educational management and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

Trish McGee, owner and publisher of The Evening Enterprise, is beginning her 10th year as an elected member of the Kent County Board of Education — all during the tenure of Superintendent Karen Couch.

McGee is the sole author of this reporting.

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