My Hometown's 'New Road' Leads Through a Google App
BY TIM W. BOBROWSKI/School Administrator, October 2018

Tim Bobrowski (above left) stops by a farmer’s market in Booneville, Ky., the location of his office as superintendent of the Owsley County School District. The 1985 high school yearbook features Bobrowski’s senior portrait along with his nickname of “Hooper.”

I came to Owsley County in eastern Kentucky as a 2nd grader in the early ’70s. I grew up across the road from the high school and just up the hill from the elementary school. Coal trucks drove the roadways, and tobacco fields patchworked the landscape.

Fast forward 42 years. The coal trucks and tobacco fields are nearly extinct, and I’m the county’s school superintendent. To say that I am invested in my community would be an understatement. That my school district is preparing students for a world vastly different from the one my friends and I grew up in heavily influences the decisions over our schools.

Our New Highway
In the ’80s, the “new road” through Booneville, the county seat, was completed, and great hopes were pinned upon it sparking new life in my hometown. Three decades later, folks still call it the new road, but no new industry or jobs traveled to town on it. For me, the internet is the new road to community resources and jobs for our graduating students. As a result, our rural, remote district of around 700 students — located in the second-least populous county in Kentucky — is a Google Apps for Education district.

With our one-to-one instructional initiative, every student carries an iPad or Chromebook, which they use in class and at home. At graduation in May, we recognized our first student to graduate with her high school diploma in one hand and both an AA and AS degree from our local community college in the other hand — degrees she earned through dual credit offerings. We have an augmented reality and virtual reality lab in our high school, a fully functioning virtual high school and a relationship with Teleworks, a company providing work-at-home employment and training, to help graduating students.

At the local produce market recently, I ran into one of my students, a high school junior, excited to let me know he was working three jobs during the summer. Two were traditional, a job handling produce and another at his father’s store, but a third job came via the internet. He was on track to earn $800 during the month with a Teleworks U-Haul job.

My Driving Vision
But we haven’t forgotten our traditions and roots. We have a school community farm on the high school campus with garden plots for county residents. It provides fresh produce for our school cafeterias. Agriculture students are involved from planting to harvesting.

College career readiness numbers, as reported by the Kentucky Department of Education, have risen dramatically, from 7 percent to 84 percent. Owsley County is one of 10 districts named by the state as a District of Innovation, and we were among the first districts in Kentucky accepted into Digital Promise. We have been part of the League of Innovative Schools since 2014. Two years ago, Owsley High School was recognized as a distinguished high school for the first time by the state education department.

My driving vision can be summed up as empowering others, personalizing education and overcoming barriers for students. As I begin my 28th year in education and my 43rd year of residency in our rural county, I can see bright futures for our students and residents in one of the poorest counties in the nation. I am following my late father’s advice: “Son, always leave it better than you found it.”

TIM BOBROWSKI is superintendent of Owsley County Schools in Booneville, Ky. Twitter: @OwsleySchools