Dr Kishore Kuncham has taken over as superintendent of the Freeport schools in Long Island, New York.
The first thing he wants is to raise the graduation rates in schools. Though most Long Island schools are doing well, schools in Freeport show average performance -- in the region of 70 percent. The community is diverse and there are challenges about getting money too, Kuncham said.
He wants the graduation rate to go up to 90 percent or higher. There are many students with limited English knowledge and many with disabilities in the district. The school budget is dependent on property taxes and aid from the state.
Kuncham has been involved in educational initiatives like the implementation and opening of the first Magnet schools on Long Island and reducing class sizes. He was also involved in designing and opening an elementary school, a science research program, a full-day kindergarten program, an alternative school, as well as other programs to improve student achievement.
A Hyderabad native who began his career as a banker, Kuncham entered the corporate world once he arrived in the US. But after three years during which he earned an MBA degree, he decided to move to the world of education.
"The corporate world would have given me more money, but money is not everything," said Kuncham, 51, one of the few Indians in the US to reach the level of superintendent.
He said it is difficult to compare the educational system in India and the US. Both have their own problems. But the education in the US gives a breadth of knowledge in many areas.
"In India, the focus is very narrow and the children during their middle school itself decide whether they want to become an engineer or doctor. In the US, children are exposed to several subject areas to find out what is in you. It may create a spark in the student," he said.
He plans to introduce yoga and mediation classes for those interested. He has received enthusiastic response from many teachers, he said.
He has been an administrator in Freeport for 15 years. The diverse district has more than 6,700 students with eight schools. Under his guidance, Freeport's bond rating soared from one of the lowest to one of the highest in the state. This year, Standard and Poor's once again upgraded the district's bond rating to AA, a status reached by only a handful of districts. The district received a clean audit from the Comptroller's Office in 2008, one of the few districts to do so in New York State.
When the superintendent retired, Kuncham was elevated to that post the very next day by the school board. Usually, the position is filled after a nationwide search for talent.
Image: Dr Kishore Kuncham