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Paducah Public Schools renews Shively’s contract despite community concerns

Liam Niemeyer

The Paducah Public Schools board unanimously voted to renew superintendent Donald Shively’s contract Monday evening, despite concerns from some community members and organizations.

There have been calls for Shively’s dismissal since a blackface photo of the superintendent came to light in 2020 and in February the state’s Education Professional Standards Board agreed in an order to reprimand Shively for “his offensive characterization of African Americans.”

Prior to Monday’s meeting, the proposed contract would have extended Shively’s contract two years, but an amendment shortened it to one. The board was split 3-2 on the amendment, ultimately deciding on the shorter length. Shively’s new contract is for $153,788.58 – an increase from his previous salary of $148,588.

A nearly three-hour meeting was called by the board Monday with one subject on the agenda: Shively’s contract. The original meeting agenda didn’t include time for public comment, though it was added to allow for community input from students, teachers and other community members. WPSD streamed the meeting in its entirety.

Paducah Tilghman High School freshman Cory’on Brooks was the first to speak.

“This is our superintendent and every time I say our superintendent, I feel embarrassed. Someone who can dress up as an African American, mimicking a thug stereotype,” said Brooks, who hopes to be an educator after he attends college. “Every time I [look at] this photo I think ‘Is this how you really see us?’ … This is not okay and whoever thinks so is wrong, too. I once upon a time looked up to you.

“I’m just disgusted, disappointed and thrown in a loop. I don’t want anyone like this to represent my school or district.”

Former Paducah Public Schools teacher and Paducah Public Schools Foundation board member Jane Gamble defended Shively and the decision to renew his contract, saying that he’s learned from his board-mandated professional development, which included nearly 90 hours of training on bias, antiracism, racial sensitivity and diversity, equity and inclusion.

“His choice was a single bad choice. There’s not a pattern. There’s not a trend,” Gamble said. “There’s not a recurrence of that choice or even of that mindset.”

Twelve other members of the community spoke before the board made its unanimous decision to renew Shively’s contract.

In an interview Tuesday, Paducah-McCracken County NAACP president J.W. Cleary – who has repeatedly advocated for Shively’s removal since the photo’s surfacing – reacted to the board’s decision.

“It’s not necessarily what we wanted but it’s not what I feel like Dr. Shively had hoped for [either],” Cleary said. “ I was proud of the fact that they just gave him a one-year contract when the options were two, three and four.”

Cleary hopes Shively takes this year to continue his efforts to better the community.

“Maybe this year he will work on trying to mend fences,” the NAACP leader said. “It’s so hard to forgive and forget … and we all go through some stuff. But it seems like that we as African-Americans are held to a higher standard, as far as forgiving, than white Americans. We as African-Americans can do something 20 or 30 years ago and it’s still lingering on.”

Shively’s new contract runs through June 2023.

The superintendent did not immediately return a request for comment. This post will be updated if Shively offers comment for this story.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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