Former HCPS Superintendent Scott Kizner awarded JEA Administrator of the Year

In+2016%2C+Kizner+stands+before+HHS+faculty+to+address+them+regarding+the+upcoming+school+year.+After+moving+to+the+Stafford+County+school+district+in+2018%2C+Kizner+has+retired+after+23+years+of+working+as+a+superintendent+across+four+different+school+districts.+Kizner+will+go+on+to+teach+leadership+at+George+Mason+University+in+the+next+few+years.

Nikki Fox

In 2016, Kizner stands before HHS faculty to address them regarding the upcoming school year. After moving to the Stafford County school district in 2018, Kizner has retired after 23 years of working as a superintendent across four different school districts. Kizner will go on to teach leadership at George Mason University in the next few years.

Maya Waid, Editor-in-Chief

After working in education for the past 40 years, former Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) Superintendent Scott Kizner is wrapping up his time as a leader in the Stafford County School District. Although he moved from the HCPS district approximately three years ago, Kizner has continued to make a significant impact on his community. 

“Personally, I was looking for a new challenge. Stafford [County] has about 30,000 students and about 4,000 employees so that was [probably] my main reason. [Moving districts] was just another professional opportunity. I am in my [23rd] year of being a superintendent, so it was something I wanted to experience,” Kizner said. 

At Stafford, Kizner inherited a larger number of schools and students to manage as a superintendent. Although his new district was much larger than the HCPS district, Kizner made sure to keep students as his top priority.   

“Sometimes larger is not necessarily better for a superintendent. A superintendent needs to know what they find most rewarding and where they can make the biggest impact. The Harrisonburg school district [has] about 6,000 students and when I look back at it, [that] was probably the size that I appreciated the most because I could get into the schools every day and get to students [and] staff,” Kizner said. “Stafford is a great experience also, I just deal with a lot more issues related to policy and planning. We have 33 schools and I have a $350 million dollar budget so there are a lot of other things that [I] do. One thing that I have done in Stafford that I also did everywhere else is that I still visit classrooms every single day, so I never lost that perspective.”

Recently, Kizner was awarded Journalism Education Association (JEA) Administrator of the Year. While he was not expecting to be awarded such a high honor, he believes the recognition helps reinforce the importance of student journalists and their work. 

“I think people in my position need to feel comfortable and supported and take away any barriers that prevent student journalists from writing articles or doing research on topics that are important to the school community. I have always felt that student newspapers do more in-depth coverage because they really spend time understanding the issue and look at it from different points of view; the student angle, the staff angle, teacher angle and parent angle. Student newspapers will cover stories that the mass media won’t cover because they don’t see it as important,” Kizner said. 

Throughout his career, Kizner was a strong advocate for the rights of student journalists and the wellbeing of his students. He believed that his focus on the children within his district was what allowed him to receive the honor of JEA Administrator of the Year. 

“One thing [that] I have been consistent [with] since I started my first superintendent job in 1999 was that I never lost focus. I wake up every morning to do what is right for the students. It doesn’t matter if you are working in a school system with 1,000 children or 30,000 children, that is what you should be doing,” Kizner said. “I have always advocated for policies and programs I thought would benefit all students. That is a key word for me, all.”

This was seen a few years ago when Kizner publicly fought for the right of student journalists against the wishes of his superiors to advocate for his beliefs. 

“I went a couple years ago to testify in front of [an] assembly to make the laws better for student journalists. The School Superintendents Association did not support my position and that did not bother me. They felt that we shouldn’t give [student journalists] as much freedom as their seeking and I saw it differently. I saw that while you are in school it is a learning opportunity and we should do whatever we can to provide the greatest learning experiences for our students and that includes student journalists,” Kizner said. 

Pullquote Photo

I wake up every morning to do what is right for the students. It doesn’t matter if you are working in a school system with 1,000 children or 30,000 children, that is what you should be doing.”

— Scott Kizner

Before his career began in the HCPS district, Kizner had pursued his love for journalism in other aspects of his life.

“I’d rather spend more time with student journalists than some of the other journalists that I deal with because I think there is a greater appreciation of the content. When I was in my first superintendent job in Wesley, Rhode Island I used to do radio shows. I [would] go on WHSV every time they asked me because I just felt that if you want the public to support the school system then they need to know everything about the school system… even if it is not shining the brightest light on it,” Kizner said. “If you want change to happen, people need to know what needs to be changed. In a place like Harrisonburg with such diversity and a lot of children that come to us with challenges, I think that it is most important that we highlight the greatness of our students and staff but also the challenges that [they] go through and what school systems actually go through.”

Over his career, Kizner has made it his highest priority to spend time each day visiting students in his schools. 

“No question my favorite part is going into classrooms and talking to students and staff. One of the last activities that I did was teach a seventh grade civics class and get to know the students and be a part of the school climate. A lot of people in my position may see that as something that they are not able to make time for, but for me that is the number one thing I am going to make time for,” Kizner said.

Throughout his career, Kizner has seen the obstacles his students faced and overcame which is also a big reward for him as their superintendent.

“I have been an educator since 1981 and there are a lot of students that I have handed diplomas [to] who had obstacles and could have easily given up. They did not give up [though] and their great teachers and staff supported them on their journey. When I see a young woman or man getting their diploma knowing that I know them and the challenges they had is very rewarding,” Kizner said.

Although he has had many highlights over his time as an educator, Kizner has also had to navigate the hardships that come with being in the superintendent position. 

“The hardest part is probably the political climate. [The] superintendents are in a position where they report to school boards and have to seek support from the city council. The hardest part is working with all these elected officials and trying to get them to understand the mission of a school system and [get them] to be supportive of what we’re trying to do. If you go into a superintendent position you have to accept and understand that it is a very political position and you are going to [experience] a lot of meetings and relationships with people that are going to have different views,” Kizner said. “I have had some people in my career personally attacking and making statements that were more personal than I would have preferred, but at one time that bothered me. But as I continued… I don’t take things personally and try to stay focused [on] what is right for the school system.”

Although he has experienced many important moments over the last 23 years, Kizner believes his relationships with the students have provided defining moments. 

“In Stafford when I started here we had a situation with discrimination against one of our students. I felt strongly that it was unacceptable how we treated this student and spent over a year and a half with the school board [discussing it]. When I was in Martinsville we had high poverty and a lot of children who were struggling academically and I got to know some of those students very well. [We are working for] all students, though. Equity works for all,” Kizner said. “I am also one of few people who can say as a father, I handed each of my three daughters their diplomas. My third daughter is a Harrisonburg High School graduate and I had her in school from kindergarten to graduation. While I was superintendent for most of my career, I also had my own children in school [which] made it somewhat more exciting. What I wanted so badly for my kids, I wanted for all kids.”

Kizner hopes that his impact on HHS and surrounding schools is one that lasts for years to come. 

“I am hoping that how I impacted Harrisonburg High School and the school system worked in a couple ways. We had great growth when I was there, we had a lot of children coming through refugee programs and we put in additional support to help students who were new to our country and learning English. We also started the process of working with the community to get the new high school. One of my biggest challenges was getting a new preschool center by Smithland [Elementary]. That is just another example, all children do not come to kindergarten the same way and early childhood is critically important to give students success in the K-12 grade,” Kizner said.

Even outside of the classroom, Kizner also advocated for important projects such as the new high school in Harrisonburg during his time as superintendent. 

“I went to a city council meeting and I was told to sit down and shut up, but I didn’t sit down or shut up. I stood up and I argued as much as I could to argue that we needed the funding for this new preschool and then on a 3-2 vote, it passed,” Kizner said. “You would prefer it not to be that difficult but superintendents need to know that you are not taking the position to be popular or loved. You take a position because you feel like you can contribute to the betterment of students and staff, if you don’t believe that you really shouldn’t be a superintendent.”

Moving forward, Kizner will be continuing his career in education by accepting a teaching position at the college level. 

“I am going to be teaching those who want to go into leadership through George Mason University, which is an opportunity to influence people who want to go into principalships and maybe future superintendents. I am going to spend a few weeks thinking about what else I want to do [and] I still have more things I want to do. I do not want to rush into anything and I want to make sure that what I will do has an impact,” Kizner said.

Even though he will still be involved in education, Kizner will miss working with younger students as he officially ends his career as a superintendent.

“I will miss the first day of school when kids get off the bus and get out of their parents’ car with smiles on their faces. I moved to Richmond, VA and I already signed up to be a reading buddy which is a voluntary thing I am very excited about to read to little kids,” Kizner said. “I am going to do things that will keep me connected to young people and hopefully make a little difference in a child’s life. I think that I have gained a lot more than others have gained. I have been in education since 1981, so I have met dozens and dozens of great students and staff. I think I have become a much better person and stronger person from those relationships and connections.”

As Kizner closes his career, he hopes that he left a legacy on not only the administrators he has worked alongside but also the students. 

“I have always asked everyone I worked with to look for the good in students and focus on what students can do [instead of] what they can’t do. The second thing that I hope people recognize is that I have tried to create a culture or climate where everyone felt that there was a leader. Leadership is not just the superintendent, the principal or the school board. Teachers, students, custodians and secretaries [can] all step forward to share ideas, raise concerns and be part of the solution. I love when I see people that I have put in leadership positions and how successful they are. I get a lot of nice emails, texts and facebook posts from colleagues in the past 23 years talking about the impact I made on them which is obviously very rewarding. Honestly I get that from students, I get every once in a while a student who is [over the age of] 30 talking about something that I helped them with years ago,” Kizner said. “A lot of times people in education are not aware of what impact they have made for a young person but I think we are more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. Power can be a good thing or a bad thing and I’d rather use it for a good thing.”

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