Celebrating KCSOS’s Women Leaders: Cherie Payne

Celebrating KCSOS’s Women Leaders: Cherie Payne

  • March 14, 2023

It’s been a big year for the newly-appointed Human Resources and Staff Development Assistant Superintendent, Cherie Payne. The shift into her new role — recently vacated by Toni Smith who is retiring — has been surreal for Payne, who said she never planned to work in education.

After almost ten years working for Pepsi-Cola Bottling Group, the last of those years in the Human Resources department, Payne knew she had reached a glass ceiling and started looking for a new opportunity. A friend suggested she apply for a position at SISC as a Benefits Technician, a role in an industry she knew nothing about. Nevertheless, she was happy to discover a whole new culture at SISC that was wildly different from what she was used to.

“The job I had before my time at SISC was predominantly male. As a female, it felt like you had to prove yourself in order to enter upper management,” said Payne. “However, at SISC, I finally had the opportunity to experience female leadership, and I truly believe that it led me to where I am today.”

Payne said she had not considered the idea of promotion until coworkers and several female mentors gave her the encouragement she needed to pursue new roles. In no time, Payne was promoted to Account Manager and then Office Manager at SISC. Eventually, a life-changing heart-to-heart with Toni Smith, who was the Director of Human Resources at the time, encouraged Payne to pursue more opportunities within the office. However, to do that, Payne had to go back to school.

Despite many challenges as a working mother trying to finish her degree, she eventually succeeded and obtained the same position Smith was in when she helped Payne through those tough times. As she looks back, Payne acknowledges she had experienced many instances of Imposter Syndrome and wishes she had her current perspective on why it is so important to believe in your abilities, take chances, and be grateful for the mentors who help lead you to better opportunities.

“These women who mentored me did it because they genuinely cared about me and wanted what was best for me,” said Payne. “I didn’t seek it out; honestly, I only focused on supporting my family. My plans never extended longer than a month of pay at a time, and so if it hadn’t been for these women who encouraged me, I fully believe I would still be a Benefits Technician at SISC and feel lucky to have that job.”

She encourages all who work at KCSOS to take advantage of the office’s merit system and apply for the opportunities you are qualified for, even if you don’t feel like you’re good enough to get there. When Payne reflects on any obstacle she has faced, she wonders how often her own obstacles stopped her from taking risks and pursuing new career possibilities. She now hopes to pass along this wisdom to all employees and hopes everyone will take a chance on themselves every once in a while.