Education
5:40 pm
Tue July 9, 2013

Shawnee High School Principal Keith Look Submits Leave of Absence

The principal at one of Louisville’s lowest achieving schools is leaving the position for an education organization located in Washington D.C.

Keith Look submitted his leave of absence Monday from Shawnee High School.  It’s effective immediately.  

Look says being a principal is an isolated experience and he’s decided to leave, in part, to challenge his assumptions about education.

Look has been a JCPS principal for a decade. Before taking the helm at Shawnee High, he was at Meyzeek Middle School, which is one of the state’s higher performing schools.

His new position with the Council for Opportunity in Education will focus on low-income, first generation students.

Look says the outlook for Shawnee High School is positive, despite being deemed in the bottom percentile for schools in the state.   

JCPS officials say Look’s position is currently posted and applications will be taken through August 8.   His leave of absence leaves open the possibility of returning to another JCPS position. 

Look says he leaves the district with an amazing set of experiences, the most intriguing stories, and the best of colleagues and friends.

Below is a copy of Look's letter:

8 July 2013

Dear Academy family,

As a kid I competed in the Shawnee High School “Best of the West” track meets. While my view of other runners at the meets was mostly from the back, I knew that my chase was not of the persons in front of me, but rather of an opportunity to return. Five years ago, I got my chance. To be a member, much less a leader, of the school and part of this storied community is a humbling honor.

In finishing the 2012-13 school year, I personally complete a decade as a JCPS principal. I am not sure what that is in dog years, but my gray hair gives some indication. (I now look more like Merlin the Magician than the guy from the 90s tv show “Renegade” that my first students in West Baltimore jokingly would make an association.) Across that span of time, I have acquired an amazing set of experiences, the most intriguing of stories, and the best of colleagues and friends. I also have picked up some wisdom, and it is that which drives me not just to be the best at my craft, but always to work to be better.

The principalship is an isolated experience. In days spent - often from before sunrise to long after sunset - the principal holds the ultimate responsibility for the well-being and growth of students and staff. Though years of study may prepare one for the role, there is nothing like assuming the position fully to realize how after plans are developed and systems installed, a heavy portion of the work still relies on instinct in sometimes the most immediate and complex conditions. No two days are alike in the life of an educator. For a principal in this human-driven enterprise, I must make decisions that help those around me sort through the new puzzle faced each day in order for the mission of the school and the district to advance: educate children.

In becoming a principal of greater wisdom, I see more clearly how public education changed during just this decade of leadership. The sundown of KERA and new frontier of Unbridled Learning are significant markers in education history – not just in Kentucky, but nationally. As a state we were pioneers in 1989 by using our supreme court to rule an entire education system unconstitutional. The

years that followed showed the country how this near revolution in public education could stand the test of time and political will to raise achievement for all. And now we traiblaze again with the early adoption and application of common core standards.

To lead in the new era of public education, time is needed to study again. New research and old assumptions may fit no longer. I must challenge my assumptions, re-interpret experiences, and learn from those with fresh eyes. Otherwise, to adapt an insightful remark once made by author and education professor Michelle Fine, it is just the same old stuff in drag.

To that end I will take a leave of absence from JCPS to work with the Council for Opportunity in Education (www.coenet.us), an  organization focusing on the education of low-income, first generation students and their pursuit of post-secondary success.  New standards and new measures often hit this vulnerable population the hardest, so to study innovations and impact nationally will build new capacity within me and ultimately for the district.  I am much appreciative of JCPS for granting me this opportunity.

By taking leave I end my tenure as the principal of the Academy @Shawnee.  Honestly, I am intimidated by the  time  likely needed to  adjust to that reality.  In five years the school has been reinvented thanks to state, district, student, staff, family, and community will.  It takes all of us.  Now, all needles point in the right direction.  Achievement shows continuous growth, particularly on the measure that means the most:  the ACT.  Our percentage growth over the last three years alone is more than double that of the state average.  In addition, attendance is up along with parent satisfaction; the learning climate is safe and engaging;  school pride is restored.  The Academy’s development has been celebrated at the local, state, national levels and even reached into outer space on the Shuttle Endeavor.  Alumni support grows with new annual scholarships for students and the community makes sure school services are aligned for students and families celebrating achievement or healing from tragedy.  

The future of the Academy is not only bright, but bold.  A new 6 Challenger Learning Center will introduce the next 5000 students to our community and to  new orbits.  Planes overhead  soar under the navigation and service of  our students in  a  bolstered partnership with JCTC.  The Louisville Story Project will publish almost a dozen Academy authors working all summer towards the inaugural publication. And soon we will hear the whistle of coaches readying our student-athletes for another season on the courts, fields, and gridiron.

Like any family, its members’ individual paths  that  extend the name, reach, and lore.  I proudly forever will be a member of the Academy family, and make the same promise we all do in connecting with our students, staff, families and community:  to lift as we climb.  It is both my duty and honor to carry its name along my journey so others may know of our work, our value, and  the limitless potential of our greatest resource – our students.