When he was a child, his father's career took the family away from their Kentucky home to the Cincinnati area. There, Payne attended schools in the St. Bernard-Elmwood Place school district. Following graduation from high school, he went on to earn a bachelor's degree in education in 1976 from Eastern Kentucky University, a master's degree in music theory and composition in 1984 from EKU, and a master's degree in education from Xavier University a few years later. More recently, he has completed work for a doctoral degree in education from the University of Cincinnati; he needs to finish his dissertation to receive the degree.
Payne's professional career began with teaching music at his alma mater, St. Bernard-Elmwood Place High School, and that was followed by serving as a teacher and principal in the Kings School district in Kings Mills, Ohio, north of Cincinnati.
Then news about KERA led to the call to return home.
"It can truly be said that KERA brought me back home to Kentucky. And I am so glad I made the return trip," said Payne.
"It really impressed me that my home state would commit itself so totally to improving education, an area in which it had lagged far behind most of the rest of the country for far too long," said Payne, dressed in a crisp white shirt and tie and speaking with the rounded-note elocution of the music teacher he used to be, and the rampant enthusiasm of the reform-minded principal that he later became.
"Here was a whole state dedicated to doing all it can to ensure that every student is successful, to making sure that every student can learn at high levels, to turning academic success for each and every student into an everyday theme for every school in the state."
KERA goals became his "own theme"
Payne made the goals of KERA his "own theme" in 1991 when he crossed the Ohio River to become principal at Gallatin County High School. After two years at Gallatin County, he took a two-year break to work on his doctoral degree at UC. He then went on to serve three years as principal at McCreary County High School and five years as principal at Washington County High School.
During his time at each of the three high schools, significant improvement was made on KERA-related standardized tests, he said. "The CATS (Commonwealth Accountability Testing System) scores at Washington County High School were the highest among all high schools in the region," he said.
Payne said he would like to see that his record of successful results on standardized tests continue at DHS, along with his teamwork approach to administration. The approach is directly related to the results, he said.
"Behind a successful academic program is a team, and behind a successful team is a team builder," he said. "Moving each and every child to making a maximum effort involves a team of administrators, council members, teachers, counselors, librarians, coaches, volunteers, and, most important, parents.
"Administrators, teachers and the rest of the educational professionals involved in the process are education experts and our work is invaluable in ensuring the progress of every student, but no one can be the expert on a particular child except the parents," he said. "Parents are a vital member of the team."
It was his record as a team builder that stood out, among other things, to the DHS site-based council, said Danville Superintendent Bob Rowland.
"He has a solid record of developing a good and productive rapport with the faculties, staffs, students, parents and the communities where he has served as a high school principal," said Rowland. "He has a lot of creative ideas for bringing people together, and that ability as a team builder is one of the things that caught the eye of the search committee and the full council, as well as myself."
Payne said he can't wait to start building his team at DHS. But he said it is obvious that his new high school home has had a lot of successful teams in the past.
"I'm very excited about working with the entire school community to maintain and build upon the traditions and excellence that have always defined Danville High School," he said. "And one of those traditions is a team approach to education."
Payne said he also is looking forward to moving to Danville, along with his wife, Bonnie. She is a veteran teacher, having taught most recently in the Washington County school district; however, she is taking off the upcoming school year to help the Payne's son, Sean Eric Payne, and daughter-in-law, Alysha Payne, tend to their two children.
In addition to finding a new home, Payne also will be looking for a new church. He currently is music minister at Springfield Baptist Church.
"Church is very important to me, and I especially enjoy the music of the service," he said. "Serving a church and its members on weekends and a school and its students on weekdays apparently are my callings in life."