College of Education

A conversation with Clemson alumnus and 2022 SC Superintendent of the Year Kathy Hipp

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In July, Anderson School District 3’s Kathy Hipp was named the 2022 South Carolina Superintendent of the Year by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA). Hipp is many things to many people in the district; she has served as superintendent for five years, worked in guidance and administration and also served as a biology teacher during the first part of her career.

To the Clemson community, she is a cherished alumnus of the College of Education. Hipp earned a master’s degree from our College in 1993, and she says the experience and lessons learned helped her transition from the classroom to a role in administration. We caught up with Hipp recently to ask about how she has approached her job during a year unlike no other in education, what Clemson still means to her and how she likes to spend what little free time she has these days.

What was your reaction to being named SC superintendent of the year?

I am so excited. It is a tremendous honor to be SC Superintendent of the Year. This recognition is a reflection of the hard work that goes on in our district on a daily basis. Due to the efforts of our faculty, staff, students, parents, board members and community, our students have educational opportunities in Anderson 3 that are equal to and exceed those in larger, wealthier districts.

This award is especially meaningful after the year that we have all had. It is a testament to how we came together to navigate the challenges of COVID-19 while providing consistent face-to-face instruction for students in a safe, healthy environment.

Hipp embraces a smiling student who was so excited to see school staff after being away from teachers and staff for a couple weeks early in the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, Anderson 3 delivered food via bus to its students.

What changes have you seen in the education landscape during your time as superintendent, and how has Anderson 3 met those challenges?

The easy answer to that question is in the area of technology. Having a 1:1 program of devices for students was once a luxury for a district, but now it is a necessity. Anderson 3 had a four-year plan for becoming 1:1 that included purchasing devices while also having an instructional program that was prepared to use the devices effectively. We completed that goal in three years and were prepared when COVID-19 required more virtual learning.

Another area where I have seen the most change is in the integration of many things that used to be separate entities such as STEM, honors programs, dual enrollment, business/industry needs, stackable credentials, etc. Now, we work with students, post-secondary education and industry to help each student put the pieces together to have a plan that transitions them from high school to the next step. Anderson 3 developed a comprehensive guidance program, formalized articulation agreements with local colleges and universities, and built a multi-district career center with Anderson Districts 4 and 5. Our students utilize these available tools to plan a relevant high school career path that leads them to become graduates prepared for post-secondary education and/or the world of work.

You’ve said before that you never set out to be a superintendent? What changed that? Was it a specific event or a slow realization over time that called you to administration?

As a graduate of Crescent High School, I felt a calling to education as my “mission field.” I thought that meant that I would spend my career as a teacher and coach. After eight years as a biology teacher, there were mentors who encouraged me to pursue administrative opportunities. It was then that I obtained my Master of Education degree from Clemson University and moved from the classroom into guidance and administration. After eighteen years at the high school, I moved to the district office. In a small district, you wear many hats based on need. For nine years, I was involved in almost every area of district operations. In February 2016, I was at home on a snow day when our present superintendent called to tell me that he was resigning and would be recommending me for the job. My Proverbs 31 devotion that morning was Proverbs 31: 16, “She considers a field and buys it.” God impressed upon me that he had one more field for me to “plow” before I retired and that was as superintendent in the place where I grew up and had worked for so many years.

Along my path I was fortunate to have great mentors to encourage me and give me opportunities to grow. Combined with the strong work ethic that I got from my parents and God’s divine direction, I accepted the superintendent position.  That is why I am passionate to pour into our staff to help encourage and mentor them as leaders. I was fortunate to have that throughout my career, and I want to pay it forward in future leaders.

Hipp (front, center) pictured with staff from Anderson District 3 the day of the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship game.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the many different people that I get to meet and build relationships with whether it is students, parents, staff, community members, business leaders or other educators. Coming together and working collaboratively to solve problems, completing projects for the advancement of the school or community, or building pathways with business and colleges/universities provides me with a sense of fulfillment. The greatest joy is seeing the pride in the faces of our students and families when our graduates walk across the stage and everyone in the audience has full confidence that our Anderson 3 team has done everything possible to prepare them to be successful in life.

How did a graduate education from Clemson help you in your career and in your current role?

I received my Master of Education degree from Clemson in 1993. This led to my move from the classroom into guidance and administration. My graduate education gave me the foundational knowledge to apply in everyday problem-solving situations. It challenged me to think critically and have a diverse, global mindset. The opportunities to develop interpersonal skills and work with others collaboratively created my team building mindset that utilizes each person’s individual strengths to make our Anderson 3 team stronger.

Hipp poses with a student at Flat Rock Elementary during favorite book character day.

How do you stay connected to Clemson?

Our district has several teacher recruitment partnerships with Clemson such as the Teacher Residency and Expressway to Tiger Town programs. I also work with several of the education staff to offer professional development and graduate cohorts for our teachers. One of our elementary schools, Flat Rock Elementary, participates in the Rural Innovative School Leadership Networked Improvement Community. As an alumnus who also has a son who graduated from Clemson, I read the newsletters and follow the athletic programs. My favorite way to stay connected to Clemson is through the softball team. I am an avid Tiger softball fan and go to the games whenever I can get a ticket.

What do you do when you’re not, you know, running an entire school district? How do you decompress?

My decompression strategy centers around being active and spending time with my family. Several years ago, I trained for and ran the Disney Princess half marathon with some friends. We plan to do it again when it restarts in 2022. My husband and I enjoy hiking mountain trails, looking at waterfalls and driving around in the Jeep with the top down and doors off. My three grandsons are probably my greatest stress relievers. There’s nothing quite as exhausting – yet refreshing – as playing with my 4-year-old grandson and his 3-year-old twin brothers.

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