The new superintendent overseeing 5,500 employees and 43,000 students sees her job as being a ‘coach.’
Writer: Theresa Campbell
Lake County Schools Superintendent Diane Kornegay is seven months into her new job, after hitting the ground running with a 100-day work plan of researching needs of the district, looking at data, asking questions, and listening and learning from the people she meets.
She relishes her new role.
“This is a wonderful community,” she says of overseeing Florida’s 19th largest school district, which is the county’s largest employer. “Everybody wants to come together on behalf of kids and schools. It has been better than I hoped for, a welcoming community that truly loves kids and wants to do the right things for the schools and kids. People are asking, ‘What is it that we can do to help?’ And that is so refreshing.”
Before presenting her 100-day findings to the Lake County School Board in late July, she told Healthy Living her objective was to learn more about the community and to build relationships.
“This provides a foundation for leadership and the ability to get things done,” she says. “I am pleased we have met those objectives. I conducted 13 teacher focus groups across the district and asked: ‘What do we want to continue, stop, and recommend for next steps?’ From the priority list, we’ve been able to address several issues regarding policies and programs at the recommendation of teachers.”
Among the approved changes for the 2017-18 school year will be three geographic regions overseen by three executive regional directors. Robert Felter, Renee Dudley, and Wayne Cockcroft will provide leadership with the targeted support system of a secretary, data and intervention specialist, English language learner (ELL) specialist, curriculum program specialist, exceptional student education (ESE) specialist, social worker, and a federal programs specialist in each region.
The superintendent says more plans are in the works to develop priorities and directions to benefit students, and to unify the schools and district as one team.
“I always say, ‘I do things with people and not to people,’ so that is why it is important that I be out in the community and continue the conversation,” Diane says. “One of my fondest memories was the evening I was in Leesburg for the first time. I was introduced to a few community members, and we ended up pulling up some tables and chairs outside and people were calling their friends on the cell phone saying, ‘Hey, the superintendent is here.’ I just fell in love with the heart of the community.”
The superintendent also had internal conversations with district staff members and teachers on the frontlines—listening to them, answering questions, and getting feedback, says Sherri Owens, the district’s communications officer.
“The superintendent has set the bar and she has set the bar high. She believes we can get there,” Sherri says, adding her boss has an infectious attitude. “Her belief is so strong that the rest of us are starting to believe it, too. Her belief is we can do this and we can be better than we are, and we don’t have to settle. We can do better, and we are believing it, too—the teachers, the support staff, all of us—and we are all here for that one purpose, which is the success of the students.”
Growing up as the middle of five children (three sisters and one brother), Diane recalls being competitive among her siblings. One of her favorite activities was watching college and pro football games with her late father.
“He taught me the love for the game, and I was really motivated most by the coaching aspects of the game,” she says. “I always found it intriguing that the coaches had this strategic plan; some days it would work and some days it didn’t work. That love of coaching and inspiring others is what really led me to education.”
She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in administration and supervision, both from the University of North Florida. She began her education career in 1987 as a second-grade teacher in Duval County, helping to open a new inner-city school.
“I found that truly my passion was the students with the greatest needs,” she says, proudly pointing to a class photo of her first group of students. “They were quite a challenge—high poverty, not a lot of parent involvement—so it was a challenging group of kids, and I fell in love with the school, the kids, and I liked being able to go in and execute a plan. Some days it worked and some days it didn’t, so you go back to the drawing board and look at what can you do differently.”
Diane discovered she enjoyed coaching other teachers as well.
“And that kind of led to the path I’m on today in being able to coach and support and help others,” she says.
She served as principal at three elementary schools, assistant superintendent, and most recently as deputy superintendent in Clay County. As the new superintendent in Lake, Diane strives to take the schools to a new level of academic excellence.
In looking at ways to help students who need extended academic time, Diane says there have been conversations about longer school days for students who need more instruction.
“The research is clear: more instructional time tailored to the individual needs of the student, coupled with hands-on activities and programs such as arts and sports, improve academic achievement. However, we haven’t set any goals in this area,” Diane says. “We’ve just had some conversations, so I want to put that into perspective.”
She added that longer school days will not happen soon, and if it ever does, it would be developed as a pilot program at one or two schools. “It won’t impact all students, and it won’t happen without substantial increases in funding,” she says.
Robert Feltner will lead Region 1, which includes: Eustis Elementary, Eustis Heights Elementary, Eustis High, Eustis Middle, Lake County Virtual, Mount Dora High, Mount Dora Middle, Seminole Springs Elementary, Sorrento Elementary, Triangle Elementary, Umatilla Elementary, Umatilla Middle, and conversion charters of Round Lake Elementary and Spring Creel Charter.
Renee Dudley oversees Region 2 schools: Astatula Elementary, Beverly Shores Elementary, Carver Middle, Fruitland Park Elementary, Leesburg Elementary, Oak Park Middle, Rimes Early Learning and Literacy Center, Tavares Elementary, Tavares High, Tavares Middle, The Villages Elementary of Lady Lake, and Treadway Elementary.
Wayne Cockcroft heads up Region 3: Cecil Gray Middle, Clermont Middle, Cypress Ridge Elementary, East Ridge High, East Ridge Middle, Grassy Lake Elementary, Groveland Elementary, Lake Hills, Lake Minneola High, Lost Lake Elementary, Pine Ridge Elementary, Sawgrass Bay Elementary, South Lake High, Windy Hill Mille, and conversion charters of Mascotte Elementary and Minneola Elementary.
Q & A with Superintendent Diane Kornegay
What are you most excited about with your job here?
The potential and talent is here to take us to the next level. I am excited about leading that effort and excited about the people I get to do it with.
What inspired you to apply for the position of superintendent?
It’s my dream job and I feel I can make exciting things happen here in Lake County. My life’s work has pointed me toward this destination.
What did your former district in Clay County do right to earn an “A” grade?
We had strong school-based leadership and collaborative professional development for teachers, along with the Academies of Clay that increased CTE (career and technical education) academies from 19 to 30 in three years.
As the new superintendent, what are some of your visions and goals for Lake County Schools?
I envision a united system where all stakeholders are committed to improving our schools. I see Lake as a destination school district. People will want to send their children here. As school choice grows, I want parents to choose Lake County Public Schools.
Ultimately, I want to be a high-performing school district. This means 90 percent of the schools are rated an A or B, 90 percent graduation rates, few to no grade-3 retentions, and every child graduating ready for college and/or the workforce with advanced credits and/or industry certifications.
What are areas of concern that need to be addressed?
Our lowest-performing students are not making annual learning gains. We must create strategies and curriculum that center on the individual needs of each child. At the other end of the spectrum, higher-performing students need greater opportunities to accelerate learning. Teachers need support to ensure classroom structures allow for more small-group, one-on-one instruction and less whole-group instruction aimed at meeting the needs of students in the middle. We must provide time for students to read, write, think, and talk to ensure students learn both content and thinking skills.
What are the best ways to improve graduation rates?
Expanding CTE programs and related industry certifications while growing business partnerships for student internships and business advisory boards, and expanding acceleration options for all students through increased post-secondary partnerships and alternative pathways for advanced coursework leading to college credit.
What are some of the biggest challenges?
Funding is one of the biggest challenges facing all Florida school districts, particularly capital outlay funds to help growing school districts such as Lake build new schools and renovate and repair existing facilities.
What are your views on the national level regarding education under the leadership of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos?
We will have to wait and see about that.
How do you feel it’s best to address bullying?
This is a school, community, and family issue. We must focus on building a school culture and climate where students learn to value difference and communicate with tolerance and understanding. We will work to ensure that students feel safe when reporting instances of bullying and proactively respond to any reports or signs of bullying, consistently and appropriately. It’s also important to engage the school and community in bullying prevention activities and policies and establish a student advisory group to get valuable feedback from students.
Any advice or suggestions to parents, teachers, students?
We must have a unified approach to improving our schools. Let’s continue to focus on innovative solutions to improving schools. Let’s continue to communicate. Look for a district app coming soon that will help provide timely updates to parents specific to their child’s school as well as the district.
Lake County Schools’ 2017-18 student calendar
Aug. 10 – First day of classes
Sept. 4 – Labor Day (student holiday)
Oct. 13 – End of first grading period
Oct. 16 – Non-student day (teacher workday)
Oct. 17 – Class resumes; second grading period begins
Nov. 20-24 – Thanksgiving holiday
Dec. 20 – End of second grading period
Dec. 21-31—Winter break
Jan. 1-3 – Winter break
Jan. 4 – Classes resume; third grading period begins
Jan. 15 – Martin Luther King Jr. birthday (student holiday)
Feb. 15 – Presidents’ Day (student holiday)
March 15 – End of third grading period
March 16 – Non-student day (teacher workday)
March 19-23 – Spring break
March 26 – Classes resume; fourth grading period begins
March 30 – Non-student day
May 24 – Last day of classes