By Susan Riddell
Education Commissioner Terry Holliday got some Ski soda and loads of Amish delicacies, but more importantly he completed a goal he set nearly two years ago.
Holliday, in a 2011 self-evaluation, pledged to visit every school district in the state – all 174 of them. The commissioner already had several district visits under his belt prior to the commitment, and he finished his quest with a greater understanding of what schools are facing on a daily basis.
“I know the big challenges facing teachers are time and money,” Holliday said. “I’m trying to work on the money.”
The commissioner completed his quest last Tuesday with visits to the Green and Hart County school districts.
“I think it was a great goal to have, and we’re thrilled he made us one of his final stops,” said Green County Schools Superintendent James Frank. “We feel like we are a hidden treasure down here, and we really appreciate the commissioner taking the time to come see what we’re all about.”
Hart County High School interim principal Debbie Fowler said her school has been excited about the visit ever since it was planned last fall.
“We had a brief faculty meeting the day before, but we also wanted to keep everything as normal as possible,” Fowler said. “We felt like that was what he wanted to see here.”
Both districts welcomed the commissioner with guided tours and showed off faculty and students. Frank presented the commissioner with a 12-pack of Ski soda, which was manufactured in the area for many years. Haley Benningfield, a student in Hart County High’s special education program, presented Holliday with a basket of locally-made Amish products, including jellies and soups, on behalf of the school faculty.
Holliday said he appreciated the hospitality of both districts. He started last Tuesday off with a quick visit to all six schools in the Green County district, including its area technology center.
He observed several science classes and chatted with teachers about the science standards in Green County. Holliday also had discussions with teachers and administers about professional learning communities, PD 360, the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS) and numerous other education programs and issues.
“There is a real focus on curriculum and instruction in Green County,” Holliday said. “There are some great facilities here, too. College and career readiness is a priority. The kids know what they want to do and when they plan to do it.”
Holliday visited two schools in Hart County, starting out at the high school before going to Munfordville Elementary School.
At Hart County High, Holliday got a tour of the help desk area for the school’s 1:1 laptop initiative, now in its third year. He had multiple conversations with band students and band director Ed Johnson. He finished out the visit by touring some classrooms and fielding questions from students.
One of the questions he was asked came from a junior who wanted to know if he was proud to be Kentucky education commissioner.
“I am so proud,” he told the students. “Like (college) basketball, the states are ranked for education. A couple of years ago, we were 34th and this year, we’re 10th. That’s because of you guys.”
Holliday told the students about their district being the final one he visited in his quest to go to all districts. He said has been to roughly 450 schools in 174 districts and that he has put 50,000 miles on his car completing his visits.
Holliday said he has no intention of going easy on his car now that he has met his goal.
“Just because I’ve visited all the districts, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop making visits,” said Holliday, who plans to target issues and needs when planning future outings to schools and districts.
He said he plans on taking KDE associate commissioners with him on some of the future visits.
“There are so many exciting things coming up for our schools, from preschool programs to high schools and career and technical education. We want to see what’s happening in our smaller districts and our larger ones. We want to see Kentucky educators guiding students to where they are successful and college and career ready.”