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Kentucky’s largest teacher’s union has a new president for the first time in 23 years

The sign for the Jefferson County Public Schools Vanhoose Education Center
Liz Schlemmer
/
LPM
The Jefferson County Teachers Association represents about 5,800 JCPS employees.

Members of the Jefferson County Teachers Association elected Maddie Shepard as their president.

For the first time since 2001, a new president will be at the helm of the Jefferson County Teachers Association. Members of the state’s largest teacher’s union elected current JCTA Treasurer Maddie Shepard as their top representative.

Shepard will replace current JCTA President Brent McKim, who has held the position for 23 years. With 1,682 votes, Shepard beat out two other candidates by a wide margin. Kenyata Dean-Bacon had the second-highest number of votes, with 788 ballots cast in her favor. Shelley Brown had 532 votes, according to totals provided by JCTA.

JCTA has about 5,800 members.

Shepard told LPM News her goals are to strengthen the union’s democratic structures, modernize its digital footprint and play more “offense” when it comes to education policy.

“We are really good — maybe one of the best locals at playing defense,” Shepard said. “But rather than spending a lot of energy and resources responding to our employer or responding to our Legislature, I want to have a more offensive strategy.”

JCTA often butts heads with the GOP-led Legislature over school funding, teacher pay and governance.

A headshot of a woman smiling in a black shift dress and pearl necklace.
Maddie Shepard
/
Submitted
Maddie Shepard is the president-elect of the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

As president, one of Shepard’s primary responsibilities will be lobbying for union members at the General Assembly. Shepard has been a volunteer member of the JCTA lobbying team since 2021, along with Kumar Rashad, whom members elected as their new vice president.

“We've already been building relationships with lawmakers and working on bills, and then more recently working with lawmakers to coauthor and bring bills — kind of more of that offensive strategy that I talked about earlier. So that's already in the works,” Shepard said.

As she tries to influence policy, Shepard said top concerns from members are related to pay, teacher input and student behavior.

Shepard began her teaching career in Shelby County Schools. She came to Jefferson County Public Schools in 2017 and is currently serving as a “deeper learning resource teacher,” training other teachers across the district.

She’ll begin her three-year term on July 15.

Rashad, who is also the 2024 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year, was reassigned away from the classroom for several months over allegations that JCPS eventually found were unsubstantiated. He told LPM he’s “feeling even more vindicated” having won the vice presidency.

Rashad was elected vice president with 1,673 votes, according to results provided by JCTA. He beat out Sara Butryn, who came in second with 838 votes. April Back-Stevens received 461 votes.

In his new role Rashad will spend significant time in Frankfort alongside Shepard lobbying for union members. While Rashad often clashes with Republican lawmakers over education policy, he said he “has a good way of finding commonalities with people,” especially one-on-one.

“I think that there's a certain level of trust that they see — me being Kentucky [High School] Teacher of the Year. And just for my blatant honesty, when I'm speaking up,” he said.

Rashad said he’ll be focused on increasing pay for educators and boosting school funding, along with opposing charter schools and school privatization.

Like Shepard, Rashad said he believes there is room to make JCTA more democratic.

“Some of our members feel that their voices are marginalized and not heard,” he said, adding that he wants to strengthen the JCTA minority caucuses and get more men of color into the union’s leadership positions.

Rashad also sees room to better coordinate with Louisville Metro Government, especially on solutions to JCPS’ transportation crisis.

JCTA members elected Tyra Walker to remain in her role as secretary. George Nichols was elected treasurer. Both Walker and Nichols ran unopposed.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.