Honoree’s Mantra: Every Child, Every Day
May 01, 2023
Appears in May 2023: School Administrator.
As superintendent of the Brighton Central School District in Rochester, N.Y., Kevin McGowan is known for his strategic thinking, his willingness to listen to opposing viewpoints, his transparency and his calm leadership.
He’s also known for his steadfast commitment to the belief he often shares that every single child matters: “Every child, every day, in every way.”
McGowan, who was named the 2023 National Superintendent of the Year at the AASA national conference in February, explains it this way: “You start by paying attention to every single individual and what their needs are. It’s not that complicated. It’s actually embarrassingly simple. … I think, ‘What would I want for my own children?’ Then we put all of our decisions in that context.”
He always has placed students at the forefront, colleagues say, even as far back as his interview for the superintendent job in 2009.
“Kevin was the only one who turned to the students and said, ‘What do you think?’” says board of education president Larry Davis. “He was the only candidate who spoke to the students directly. And that wasn’t a staged thing. That was him being him.”
On the job, McGowan maintained that focus by ensuring that every student received the attention or services they need. Under his leadership, Brighton developed a blueprint strategic plan to guide the district in setting and reaching goals for student performance and district achievement, as well as professional development and growth for educators.
McGowan is particularly proud of the district’s successful efforts to close achievement gaps. When he arrived at Brighton from a small, rural superintendency, he began reviewing student achievement data. At the time, the district’s graduation rate was 89 percent. What concerned him even more was the 54 percent graduation rate for Black students and the 65 percent rate for students with disabilities.
“We said, this is not okay,” McGowan says. “Achievement can’t be for some kids. Achievement has to be for all kids. It should be measured by every single subgroup.”
McGowan collaborated with school and district leaders to address the challenge. They launched an initiative that encouraged every high school student to take at least one Advanced Placement course by eliminating prerequisites and revamping the recommendation process.
Today, McGowan is proud to say the graduation rate is 98 percent, and other gaps are disappearing. The number of African American students graduating with at least one AP course has more than doubled.
But like many other districts, Brighton has grappled with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion — and challenges to them.
When at a board meeting a small group of parents objected to inclusion of a non-binary author’s book Gender Queer: A Memoir in the high school library, McGowan told them he and the board of education members would read the book and consider it.
McGowan eventually told the parents that the book would remain in the school. “He stood up and said, ‘If one kid benefits from this, from seeing themselves in that library book, that library book will never leave our shelves,’” says Matt Tappon, principal of Council Rock Primary School.
McGowan’s decision and response typify his approach: calm and respectful with a keen focus on what benefits students. He deliberately seeks out opportunities to interact with students so he can better understand them. He’s a regular presence at sporting events, school plays and other student events — and not just because two of his own children attend Brighton schools.
Along the way, he always asks: “Is that the best we can do for these kids, or is there more that we can do?”
Jennifer Larson is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.
BIO STATS: Kevin McGowan
Currently: superintendent, Brighton, N.Y.
Previously: superintendent, Warsaw, N.Y.
Greatest Influence on Career: Mike Glover and Jim Knowles first hired me as a school leader and continue to be mentors. They modeled an approach to leadership that focuses on treating others the way we would like to be treated and making sure that is the case for every child we work with.
Best Professional Day: Graduation day is a checkpoint where we celebrate individuals who are walking across that stage despite incredible obstacles and challenges.
Books at Bedside: Five Practices for Equity-Focused School Leadership by Sharon Radd and others; The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson; and Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau by Ben Shattuck
Why I’m An AASA Member: A strong AASA provides superintendents with the support they need to do their best work for children.