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He was almost a high school dropout. Now, he is superintendent of Taylor County High School.
Roger Cook shared how he exceeded his own expectations at the Kentucky Leads the Nation Round Table meeting on Friday at TCHS.
"We are not a product of our environment, we are a product of expectations," Cook said to the audience of educators, local and state government officials and superintendents from districts throughout Kentucky who gathered to learn about the district's performance-based education program.
"If we're a product of our environment, I wouldn't be standing here today."
Though he spent his early childhood on a farm in Taylor County, Cook and seven of his nine siblings were uprooted to a housing project in town after his mother divorced their abusive father.
Cook said he remembers getting into numerous fights when his classmates taunted him and his sister for living in the projects. Following in the footsteps of the eight siblings who had already dropped out of school, Cook was nearly expelled after getting into one fight too many.
But then the principal and head football coach told Cook's mother that he could remain in school on one condition - that she let him play football.
Cook went on to graduate high school and later became a football coach, teacher, principal and finally, superintendent.
Students like him are why Cook said he and the Taylor County School Board implemented a zero dropout policy.
"We don't give up on kids, ever. We don't stigmatize kids. We don't belittle kids, and we don't let 'em drop out."
Cook told the audience that there are three rules the district stands by. One is no zeroes, the second is no failures and three is that no students are held back.
The Virtual Charter School, where Cook gave his presentation, is one tool the district uses to keep students in school. Cook said students who come to him saying they were going to drop out are now graduating by taking online courses.
"These kids, they want to drop out for one moment only."
After that, Cook said, high school dropouts face a hard road, often leading to drugs and committing crimes.
Cook said the district also has many students who are excelling in their classes, so much so that it's necessary to move them onto the next level. Middle school students are coming to the high school for classes and high school students are earning college credit through Campbellsville University.
State Rep. John "Bam" Carney, R-Campbellsville, said if Taylor County isn't a district of innovation, he doesn't know what school is. A graduate of TCHS and now a social studies teacher at Taylor County Middle School, Carney is a staunch supporter of the controversial dropout bill recently passed by lawmakers in the legislative session.
In the final version of the bill, school districts can voluntarily raise the state's dropout age from 16 to 18. When at least 55 percent of the districts in the state have done so, the remaining 45 percent have to do so within four years.
"I don't want to offend anyone," Carney said to the audience, "but if you're not one of the districts considering this, shame on you."
The Taylor County School system has had zero dropouts for the past four years.
Cook said the district's decision to allow not even one student to drop out has led the move to performance-based education.