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In his first official act as superintendent, James Neihof got to hand out diplomas to over 300 seniors at the graduation ceremony last Friday night.
Neihof, who took office on Monday, said seeing all of the Shelby County High School students receive a certificate for 12 years of successful education reminded him of why he wanted to be superintendent of Shelby County Public Schools.
"This is why we do what we do," he said. "To see those kids succeed in school and be prepared to excel in whatever they go on to next."
Now that Neihof is head of the school system, he is the person ultimately responsible for the education of the 6,200 students in the district.
Neihof said the quality of education in the district today is a credit to the direction of previous superintendents, central office staff and the school board.
He said he hopes to work together with the board and central office to continue improving the quality of local education.
"It's a steep climb up," he said. "But we can and will make the climb."
Neihof said one of his major focuses is removing barriers to education for all students.
"Whatever is hindering students from learning must be taken away," he said.
One of the ways Neihof hopes to remove barriers is by fostering closer relationships between teachers and the central office and between teachers and students.
Students learn best when they have a positive relationship with their teachers, he said.
Neihof said the four major challenges that the district currently faces are improving test scores, closing achievement gaps, accommodating increased enrollment and building new schools.
"We can only overcome these challenges if we work as a team," he said.
Man for the job
After a three-month candidate search, the school board named Neihof as the new superintendent in April. Brenda Jackson, school board chair, said Neihof stood out during the interview process because of his in-depth understanding of the challenges that face the district and his clear plans for improving the quality of local education.
Other board members said Neihof stood out because of his ability to make clear-headed problem-solving decisions.
Jackson said the district received several qualified applications for the position. Deciding between the candidates was not easy, she said. Over the last four weeks, the board of education has interviewed five of the 27 applicants for the vacant position.
Dr. Susan Cook, who served as interim superintendent this past school year, said she can leave the district with confidence that local education will continue to improve with Neihof at the helm.
Neihof, who has 17 years of experience as an educator, said he began thinking about pursuing an administrative position while he was an industrial arts teacher in Eminence. At that time, the superintendent of the Eminence Independent School System, David Baird, began mentoring and encouraging Neihof to pursue further education.
Neihof received his bachelor's degree in technology education from Morehead State University, received his master's degree in education from the University of Louisville and his superintendent certification from Eastern Kentucky University.
On his path to become superintendent, Neihof has served as a district administrator, assistant principal and technology education teacher at SCHS, Eminence High School and Nelson County High School.
Neihof said being a teacher is in his blood. All three of his siblings are educators and his wife, Dorenda, is the principal of South Oldham High School. His son, Zack, will be a freshman at Western Kentucky University next year.
Neihof and his wife, who live in Oldham County, will be moving into the community before the end of the year.