CHESTERTOWN — Sherise Kennard is not one to squander an opportunity to improve.
That’s probably the simplest explanation why Kennard, Clerk of the Circuit Court for Kent County since last May, enrolled in the Maryland Judiciary Institute for Court Management certification program four years ago when she was the chief deputy.
Kennard began the intensive 13-course multi-day program in 2017, long before anyone had an inking that Clerk Mark Mumford would step down in 2020 in the middle of his unprecedented eighth term or that Kennard would ascend to being the official keeper of records for all matters brought into the Circuit Court.
A proven self-starter, Kennard said she signed up for the program because she wanted to become a better leader — more effective, more efficient.
Plus, as she said in a telephone interview Sunday, Feb. 14, “You can always use education.”
Kennard traveled from her home in Chestertown to the Maryland Judicial Center in Annapolis three days a week for all-day instruction, beginning with the first course in January 2017 on the purposes and responsibilities of courts.
Instruction topics also included caseflow and workflow management; accountability and court performance; visioning and strategic planning; leadership; public relations; educational development; operations management; workforce management; modern court governance; and executive decision-making.
After successfully completing the four-year program, Kennard was awarded certification from the National Center for State Courts.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last two classes were held virtually on the Zoom platform.
Initially graduation was to be in-person last October.
Because of the pandemic, plans changed. The ceremony was virtual and pushed back to the end of January.
Kennard is the first Black and first female Clerk of the Circuit Court for Kent County.
She joined the clerk’s office in 1993 as the bookkeeper — that’s how the position was advertised back then when Mumford urged her to apply for the job.
Mumford said Kennard’s willingness to work hard and be a team player were apparent when he interviewed her.
Kennard, chief deputy since 2015, was Mumford’s choice as successor when he announced his early retirement last spring.
She has gone on the record, as recently as last week’s telephone interview, to say she intends to seek election to a full term in 2022.
Chestertown is Kennard’s hometown. She was born here and has been away only for the two years she attended high school in Hawaii as a junior and senior.
Now 53, she got her first grown-up job at the age of 19, deboning chicken at the Campbell Soup Company processing plant that was on Morgnec Road, outside of Chestertown.
Kennard worked at Campbell Soup for seven years before applying for the job in the clerk’s office, “taking advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself,” she said in Sunday’s phone interview.
Enrolling in the four-year Maryland Judiciary ICM program was another opportunity that Kennard embraced. The goal, she said, is to “make the court more efficient and assist the public in a better way.”
While Kennard is making history on the local front, the significance of Kamala Harris’ election as the first female vice president, the highest-ranking female official in U.S. history, and the first African American and first Asian American vice president is not lost on her.
“I was thrilled when that happened,” Kennard said of the November 2020 general election.
Does she think this will inspire more women of color to run for office?
“I certainly hope so,” Kennard said. “When you see people who look like you, it makes you want to never give up, to continue to strive, to always think big because anything is possible.”
Kennard was working on Jan. 20 when Joe Biden was sworn in as 46th president of the United States and Harris was sworn in as vice president. But, she taped the inauguration and watched the ceremony later that day.
Kennard said she was bowled over by Amanda Gorman, the young Black woman who was the inaugural poet.
“She was poised and her words were so eloquently spoken. What an inspiration,” Kennard said of Gorman, a 22-year-old cum laude graduate of Harvard University.
Kennard said she believes that Kamala Harris and Gorman provide hope and encouragement for people of color.
“All the little Black girls and boys, they can look at Kamayla and Amanda and say, ‘That could be me one day.’”
Could the same be said about Kennard?
“Well,” she answered, “I hope so.”