Professionally and in service to his country, Rodney J. McKinley rose to the position of 15th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.
But stop there, and you’ve missed the mark on why McKinley rose to that position.
And you’ll miss the beliefs he carried with him to the position of chief human resources officer for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
On a recent morning, McKinley, 58, scanned a list of some of the hundreds of inspirational tweets he has shared.
The Mount Orab, Ohio, native was asked to pull out just a couple tweets that pertain to his life in his current position.
First chosen was: “The best portion of a good man’s life is the little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.”
As a school official, budget concerns represent ongoing challenges. The same was true with the military, McKinley said. But he knows it costs nothing to let others know you care about them.
“I think being kind and caring about your fellow man doesn’t cost you a penny, it’s all free to actually care about people,” McKinley said. “I try to say ‘Hi’ to everybody and smile at everybody, because you never know the impact you can have on someone’s life.”
With that, McKinley picked the list back up and soon found another he really likes to follow:
“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”
“For me here, in terms of my actions in this school district, I am going to be a man of character,” McKinley said. “I choose to have strong character in how I act, my integrity, how I treat people and doing what is right. Sometimes doing what is right is very difficult because it can rub others the wrong way. But in your gut, if you feel it…”
That triggered a memory of just such an instance. McKinley has worked in the Pentagon and visited the Oval Office, so there’s no telling where his memories will land. But this one happened to be while he was a first sergeant at Tinker Air Force Base from January 1994 to July 2000.
McKinley was responsible for many individuals, including an airman who was a tech sergeant with 17 years of military service.
McKinley found out the airman had a wife at home who was bedridden.
“Before he came to work in the mornings he had to feed his wife through a tube and bathe her and then he’d go home for lunch and feed her,” McKinley said. “So he was doing all of this on his own. I sat down with him one day and I said, ‘Mike how can we help you?’”
A transfer to an Air Force Base close to their family was his reply. That way others could help him. McKinley put in the request and it was disapproved. Rather than surrender, McKinley politely pressed the issue because he felt this was “the right thing to do.” Again, he was turned down.
He continued on to the point that he offered to pay for the move himself.
He finally received a call from a colonel, who told him the tech sergeant could move at will and McKinley would not have to pay for it.
McKinley was thankful for both although he said, “I would have paid.”
“It was a gut feeling of I’m not going to take no for answer, this is the right thing to do,” he said. “It was about taking care of people.”
In Oklahoma City Public Schools, McKinley is responsible for “everything human resources” in a district with 89 schools, 45,000 students and 5,000 employees.
“Our students learn not only from lessons in the classroom, but also by observing adults. So having a leader like Mr. McKinley to be a model is a special bonus for our students in addition to the operational excellence he brings to our district,” said Dave Lopez, Oklahoma City Public Schools’ interim superintendent.
Why did he take the position when he knew the challenges? One, his wife is originally from Oklahoma. But more importantly, McKinley wanted to use what he had learned in helping men and women in the military to helping staff and students in a school district. It needles him that in information about the strengths of Oklahoma City, schools are not mentioned and he wants to work with others to put the district on the list of valued aspects of the city.
McKinley, who has only been in the position since November, quickly realized that as with the military, not every decision will be popular. Such as the policy he set regarding days out of school when the wind chill is too low.
But McKinley felt it was the right decision, in part because of the number of children who do not have a good winter coat.
And after that he said the district worked with others in the community to help gather winter coats for students who needed them.
That’s just an example of his role.
“I’m responsible for security for the whole district, workman’s comp and athletics,” McKinley said. “I don’t like to say that people have worked for me, because I think we all work together.
“And so I’m blessed to have a bunch of people that I work with and hopefully we can provide some help right down to the individual student so that we can provide the best education possible.
“Along the way we can hopefully develop their character so they can contribute positively to society.”