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Local principals named to top district positions

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By Kacie Goode

Two familiar faces will lead both public school systems as Bardstown and Nelson County name Ryan Clark and Wes Bradley as superintendents. Both currently serve as principals within the districts. Clark leads Bardstown Middle School and Bradley leads Thomas Nelson High School.

The districts made the announcements Friday at separate special-called meetings. Each had been looking to fill the positions after Anthony Orr resigned from Nelson County Schools in July, and longtime superintendent Brent Holsclaw announced in January his plans to retire from Bardstown at the end of the school year.

Nelson County was challenged with naming a superintendent following months of public criticism over district leadership. Community members seemed to make their opinion of the selection process clear, with around 200 showing up for Bradley’s public candidate showcase, but far fewer attending the meet-and-greets for the other two candidates selected by the district’s screening committee. Many had referenced Bradley as a “community choice” for the position, and that show of support extended to Friday’s announcement, when the reading of Bradley’s name was met with applause, hugs and even some tears from audience members.

“I’m honored to be a part of this journey,” Bradley said after being welcomed out following the announcement. “There have been so many that have supported me throughout my life that are from Nelson County Schools and from our community.”

But the decision to appoint Bradley was not unanimous. The vote passed 4-1 with Vice Chairwoman Diane Berry, who served on the screening committee as the board’s representative, opposing. Berry, mentioning she is the only current board member to have graduated from Nelson County Schools, shared a statement prior to the vote.

“The issue of replacing our superintendent began months ago. I was approached by a parent as well as others asking my opinion about Mr. Bradley’s readiness to become Nelson County’s next superintendent. My reply was ‘no,’” Berry told the room. She said she thought Bradley would be ready for the job in the future, but he is not ready at this point. “While Mr. Bradley’s educational experiences are a credit to him, he does not have the experience that I — or we — were looking for in the public school sector,” or the financial readiness needed. “I am responsible for not only my district’s children, but all children in Nelson County, and I do not take that responsibility lightly.”

Bradley’s appointment passed with no further discussion.

While Nelson County was working under public pressure, Bardstown had the challenging task of finding a successor for Holsclaw, who has been with the district for 13 years.

In his public showcase last week, Clark made the comment about BCS’ history of long-dedicated leaders, having had only eight superintendents in its more than century-long existence. Clark said he, too, was at a point in his career to provide “long-term leadership.”

In a statement later provided to The Kentucky Standard, Clark called it a great honor to be named the district’s ninth superintendent.

“It is very special to me to be taking on such an important role in a district that I hold so dear,” he said. “I look forward to working together with our outstanding teachers and staff to continue providing the learning opportunities for our students that our community has come to expect. I am humbled by the board of education putting their faith in me to carry on our proud 110-year tradition.”

The decision to hire Clark was unanimous. 

“All the finalists we interviewed were very highly qualified, making the decision a challenging one for the board,” said BCS Board Chairwoman Jennifer Shrewsbury in a statement. “However, the members of the board were unanimous in their selection of Dr. Clark as the district’s next superintendent. We feel that Dr. Clark has the right combination of focus on student achievement, vast district knowledge, and shared core values to lead the district into the future.”

While the districts started the search process about four months apart, they quickly caught up with one another, eventually having five finalists between the two — with one candidate applying to both — and each completing interviews of those candidates on Thursday. Though neither Bradley nor Clark has served as superintendent before, they bring with them prior knowledge of, established relationships with, and personal investment in, their respective school districts.

Bradley will start his new position May 1, and Clark will begin July 1. With their advancements to superintendent, the districts will now look to fill principal vacancies at Bardstown Middle School and Thomas Nelson High School.