By Mike Marsee
They were telling Kentucky’s education commissioner exactly what was on their minds – and it was exactly what he wanted to hear.
Educators, parents and community members gathered in Shelbyville last week to share their thoughts about things that should be considered in a new education accountability system in the first in a series of Education Town Hall Meetings.
“We can’t build a system – I won’t build a system – that doesn’t use the brain power and the dedication and commitment that Kentuckians bring to this process,” Pruitt told a near-capacity crowd at The Blair Center at Southside Elementary School (Shelby County). “Why build a system that doesn’t matter to the people who have to work with it?”
There will be 10 more chances for people to weigh in at town hall meetings scheduled in all regions of the state through April 28, as well as online opportunities.
“I think it’s great that they’re willing to listen, that the department wants to listen to teachers, wants to listen to administrators,” said Sarah Fitzpatrick, a health and physical education teacher at Southside Elementary who was the first teacher to speak. “It’s a great thing that they’re willing to talk to us and listen to us.”
The recent Congressional reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), gives states the power to set how accountability is determined and how to define and improve low-performing schools. Pruitt said he wants that power to extend beyond Frankfort.
“That’s why it’s so important to have these events,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of really invested, smart people out in Kentucky who can help us build a world-class accountability system. It’s just critical for us to get that feedback on the front end. It’ll make for a better system than if we try to do it by ourselves in Frankfort.”
The ideas and suggestions that come out of the town hall meetings will be used by KDE as it develops a new and more effective accountability system that is expected to be completed by January and implemented in September 2017.
Jamie Chenault, a 4th-grade teacher at Lakewood Elementary School (Hardin County), said the meetings provide “an amazing opportunity for educators to be heard” before a new system is crafted.
“Usually a system is just passed down, it’s handed to you, and just to be heard is more than we can ask for as educators,” Chenault said.
Those who were heard in Shelbyville included teachers, librarians, administrators, school board members, consultants and parents. Pruitt asked them to speak to how Kentuckians define school success by considering these five questions:
- What do you expect from our schools?
- What school characteristics are most important?
- How should we measure school success?
- How do we ensure all schools are successful?
- How should we celebrate school success?
Pruitt said the new system must be built on three student-focused pillars: equity, achievement and integrity.
“We as a state can decide what accountability is going to look like for Kentucky,” he told the audience. “I want to hear from you what you value …, because I want to build a system that’s going to be about what we value as Kentuckians and what we want to see our schools look like to be successful.”
Pruitt and Rhonda Sims, the associate commissioner in KDE’s Office of Assessment and Accountability, sat at the front of the room, but they weren’t the only ones listening. The audience also included Rep. Derrick Graham (D-Frankfort), the chairman of the Kentucky House of Representatives Education Committee; representatives of KDE partner organizations, two members of the Kentucky Board of Education and several KDE employees.
Many of the speakers advocated a particular area of interest. Fitzpatrick, for example, said she wanted to make sure there is a place in the new accountability system for health and physical education, but she also took note of others who had different priorities but similar convictions.
“When you put it all together, we’ve all got these pieces of what school is that are important. You’ve got the arts, you’ve got music, you’ve got school counseling, you’ve got psychologists. We all want our piece and all of it is important,” she said.
Chenault said she thought it was important to speak on behalf of her students.
“I’m there for them. It usually only takes one voice, and I can be that one voice for them to make a difference,” she said.
She said she was impressed by the sincerity of those who spoke.
“Sincerity among passionate people. I really feel like Dr. Pruitt is very passionate as well,” Chenault said.
Pruitt said the zeal he saw and heard at the first town hall makes him even more excited about the remaining meetings.
“It showed me why I came to Kentucky,” he said. “The people here care about our kids and care about our schools and making sure that our kids are successful. I think that came through in spades.”
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Stephen Pruitt email@example.com
Jamie Chenault firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Fitzpatrick email@example.com