CHESTERTOWN — The head of Kent County Public Schools has been named the top administrator in the state by the Public School Superintendent’s Association of Maryland.

In an announcement issued Sept. 9, Karen Couch was named the 2021 Maryland superintendent of the year. With that honor in hand, she will now compete for the national honor.

“As the smallest county in the state, we do not always receive the recognition we deserve, and it’s an honor to be able to shine a spotlight on the good things that are happening in this county,” Couch said in a statement. “It is gratifying for me to bring this level of recognition to our school system. We may be small but we are mighty!”

In the statement, Couch said she was thankful for Kent County Public Schools community.

“Many of my achievements in Kent County are attributed to the fine administrators and staff employed in the school system,” Couch said in the release. “I also have an amazing school board who always keeps our students at the forefront of every decision.”

Kent County Board of Education members congratulated Couch on her award at their meeting Monday, Sept. 14.

“It’s a good honor and I think very well deserved,” said board member Wendy Costa.

President Joe Goetz spoke about how great an honor it is to be recognized by peers. He said Couch’s achievement is great for the school system.

“Being a Superintendent is not easy; each day you are faced with opportunities that will affect the students and staff of Kent County Public Schools. It takes courage and leadership to make hard choices, following what you believe to uphold the values and mission of the schools,” Goetz said of Couch in the award announcement from the PSSAM. “We are proud she has been recognized and grateful for her leadership.”

At the meeting, board member Nivek Johnson said Kent County Public Schools has a great reputation throughout the state, with Couch recognized as a great leader.

“What a great honor,” Johnson said.

In the announcement, Talbot County Superintendent Kelly Griffith, president of PSSAM, praised Couch’s “wealth of experience and expertise.”

“Dr. Couch has been a role model for many superintendents and will represent Maryland exceptionally well at the national level,” Griffith said in a statement.

Hired as superintendent for Kent County Public Schools in 2013, Couch “immediately became a voice for rural counties,” Griffith said. Couch volunteered to serve as PSSAM’s legislative chairperson and member of the executive board. She served as president in 2020.

Couch also served on the state panel for education reform commonly referred to as the Kirwan Commission.

Among her local achievements, Board of Education members praised Couch for creating a full day universal pre-kindergarten program, the announcement states.

“Our district has experienced declining enrollment accompanied by decreasing revenues. Dr. Couch has demonstrated great creativity in saving money and finding new revenue streams,” the letter reads. “Dr. Couch has been a leading voice for small, rural districts in Maryland.”

As stated in the PSSAM announcement, Couch received a Special Recognition Award from the Mid-Shore Community Foundation in 2015. She also is a member of the Chestertown Rotary Club and a past president of the Eastern Shore Maryland Educational Consortium.

Couch came to Kent County from New Mexico, where she served as a principal and then superintendent.

Just as Couch has held leadership positions with organizations like the PSSAM in Maryland, she was a past president of the New Mexico Superintendent’s Association and a member of the Governing Board of the American Association of School Administrators, the announcement from the PSSAM states. She also was recognized as the 2010 New Mexico Superintendent of the Year and 2000 New Mexico Personnel Administrator of the Year.

At the meeting Sept. 14, Couch showed her appreciation for those board members who had hired her and what it was for her and her husband to move across the country to Kent County.

Bryan Williams is the only current board member who also was serving when Couch was brought onboard, and she singled him out at the meeting for his friendship. The others serving on the board at the time were Michael Harvey, Brian Kirby, Charles “Chic” Prince and Jeff Reed.

“It’s always important for a superintendent to feel like they have a connection with the board members and I would like to acknowledge all the board members that initially hired me,” she said. “That was a very nice welcome that they provided to me when I came to this school system and I will never forget it.”

Couch spoke about how the Kent County High School football team showed up to help move her and her husband into their home when they relocated from New Mexico. She said she and her husband spoke before he passed away last year about how they would do it all again — “even knowing what I know now” — without hesitation.

“It was a very large leap of faith that my husband and I took to move to Maryland,” she said. “That was a a very happy time in our marriage and a very happy time in moving to Maryland.”

Lifestyle Editor Leann Schenke contributed to this report.

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