Those who have worked alongside Brian Shumate, Medford School District's new superintendent, say he's a diligent, supportive leader who encourages staff to make data-driven and even daring decisions to produce positive outcomes for kids.

Those who have worked alongside Brian Shumate, Medford School District's new superintendent, say he's a diligent, supportive leader who encourages staff to make data-driven and even daring decisions to produce positive outcomes for kids.

Take Iroquois High School, where Shumate was principal from 2001 to 2007. The most diverse school in Jefferson County Public School District in Louisville, Ky., Iroquois is located in a high-poverty area with the most transiency, the most apartment-dwellers and the most English-as-a-second-language and special education students, said Joe Burks, Shumate's supervisor at the time.

"Brian waded into this tough school, and in two of the six years he was there, the school had the highest gains in math and reading of any high school in the district," he said. "When he started there, about 25 percent of the kids who graduated enrolled in post-secondary education, but by the time he left, that percentage had more than doubled."

On Monday, the Medford School Board made Shumate's appointment to superintendent official. He will begin July 15 at a salary of $200,000.

Shumate worked for the Jefferson County district for 27 years, starting as a math teacher and football and track coach before climbing the ranks as an assistant principal, principal and high school liaison.

For the past two years, Shumate has been one of six assistant superintendents for Academic Achievement K-12.

"Your gain is a huge loss to our district," said Rob Stephenson, principal of Valley High School in Louisville.

"That man works so hard and is so innovative when it comes to education. He's done it all."

Jefferson County is the largest district in Kentucky, with more than 100,000 students, 6,500 teachers and a budget of $1.2 billion. Shumate oversees four high schools, four middle schools, 15 elementary schools and an alternative school in one of six regions of the district.

Shumate is married to his high school sweetheart, Dana, and they have two children, Kaitlin, 24, and Colin, 20.

"He builds community, (and) is dedicated to student success," said Anna Byrd, principal of Crums Lane Elementary in Louisville. "He is sincere, straight-forward and diligent. I am so sad you're taking him. He is an absolute joy to work with."

Ten other principals, as well as past and present supervisors and two secretaries, also sang Shumate's praises this week.

"He's phenomenal to work with," said Maria Clemons, principal of Kerrick Elementary in Louisville. "He's big on hard work. He knows how to push up his sleeves."

Shumate was born and raised in Louisville and was on the football and wrestling teams at Western High School, where his photo now hangs in the school's Hall of Fame.

Burks, who retired last year after 37 years with Jefferson County, was a teacher at Western High when Shumate was a student there.

"I knew Brian back when he had hair," Burks said. "He was one of the top students in the school, as well as one of the top athletes."

After graduating from Western High in 1983, Shumate attended the Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville.

"My father was a draftsman and worked with engineers his entire career," Shumate said. "I was very much interested in becoming an engineer, and I had a good solid math and science background."

But he later changed his mind and his academic focus. He graduated in 1987 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and, later, earned his master's degree in secondary education and his doctorate in educational administration.

Shumate said Wednesday that he's never regretted his decision to become an educator over an engineer.

"I don't have to volunteer on the weekends to soothe my conscience," he said. "I help people every day."

Several principals who currently work under Shumate's direct supervision commented that he is always a text, email or phone call away.

"I can text or call him at 8:30 or 9 at night, and he's always available to answer my questions," said Dylan Owens, principal of Greenwood Elementary in Louisville.

"He always offers advice, asks the right questions, and is always very visible and approachable, not just for administrators, but for teachers as well," Owens added.

Gwen Goffner, principal of Cane Run Elementary, said Shumate is a strong advocate of Professional Learning Communities — in which teachers collaborate — but also respects the individualities of teachers and principals, as well as the cultures within each school.

On a recent walk-through of Cane Run, Shumate stepped into a classroom where he immediately began to interact with students.

"It was a fourth-grade class, and they were working on magnetism," Goffner said. "They had magnets and wires, and he walked over to one of the groups that was working on the activity the teacher had assigned. He shared ideas with them and started asking them questions. He didn't just stand and observe; he was hands-on."

Shumate has spent the last six years fostering PLCs across the district, making sure teachers have time built into their day to collaborate with other teachers, share successes and review data.

"He makes sure we are not just networking, sharing and venting, but are coming up with a finished product that will move us forward," said Stephen Howard, principal of Dixie Elementary in Louisville.

PLCs are the best model for turnaround in a school, Shumate said. Teachers need to know content standards, create assessments, look at data, create targeted inventions, as well as celebrate student successes, he said.

"You can't just put three teachers in a room and say, 'Become a PLC,' he said. "Good leaders help people come together with a common mission, but you have to create systems to make that happen."

Shumate once told Owens that he had played basketball in grade school. He wasn't the best player on the team, but he was either scoring points or fouling out, and people always knew when he was on the court.

"That is his approach with us," Owens said. "He wants leaders that are going to make things happen. And that is something that has stuck with me since our first conversation."

Shumate said he likes people who are energetic and enthusiastic about their work, adding that he tolerates and forgives mistakes when people's intentions are right and they follow the established guidelines.

"I don't tolerate mistakes of laziness and incompetence," he said.

In addition to strengthening PLCs, Shumate also played a crucial role in establishing "five-star high schools," said Dewey Hensley, Jefferson County's chief academic officer and Shumate's direct supervisor.

Every high school in the district specializes in one of five professional career themes — medicine, health and the environment; engineering; communication, media and the arts; human services, education and international studies; and business and information technology. In the eighth grade, students apply to the school in their area with the theme that interests them most, and in high school, they take electives tailored to their interests and aspirations in addition to their core classes.

"We want every kid to graduate with a credential diploma where they have the ability to receive dual credits, articulated credits and/or and industry certification," Shumate said.

"I will not change my tune. I believe in this whole-heartedly," he said.

Shumate also was the primary architect in a complete redesign of two schools. Starting this fall, Valley High School will absorb about 350 seventh- and eighth-grade students from Frost Middle School nearby. As a result, Frost Middle School, "one of the lowest performing schools in Kentucky," will become a sixth-grade-only, transition academy, allowing staff to make home visits and provide more targeted interventions, said Frost Principal Faith Stroud.

Hensley said that throughout the process Shumate kept the public in the loop, led community focus groups, worked with the union and held forums so he could get feedback from teachers, parents, business leaders and "everyone who had a stake in that part of town."

During his 13 years as a building-level administrator, Shumate said he never had any grievances filed on him by the teachers' union. Attempts to reach the Jefferson County Teachers Association were unsuccessful.

"There have been times where I have had to do employee discipline, but I did it within the guidelines of the contract and tried to do it in a dignified way," Shumate said. "I don't make rash decisions about employees."

Shumate doesn't suck up, give in, fight with policy or argue with the union, Burks said.

"He develops relationships," he said.

Many of the students Shumate taught or counseled years ago still call him regularly, and parents seek him out, said Theresa White, Shumate's secretary.

Shumate said he never considers these calls a nuisance.

"When people call you with problems, those are opportunities, not burdens," he said. "We're in the business of helping human beings, and that really never stops."

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or Follow her at