In July, Gov. Steve Beshear reappointed two members and named five new members to the Kentucky Board of Education. To give educators throughout the state the opportunity to learn more about the men and women who serve on the state board, Kentucky Teacher presents readers a series of question and answer sessions with board members. In this final installment, we introduce Jay Parrent and Mary Gwen Wheeler.
Parrent believes ‘education is transformative, changes lives unlike anything else’
Jonathan “Jay” Parrent, of Caldwell County, represents the 1st Supreme Court District. He is the dean of student affairs at Madisonville Community College and works with regional high school students to improve college and career readiness. Parrent’s term will expire April 14, 2014.
In your opinion, what makes Kentucky schools tick?
Without doubt, the teachers, staff and administrators are all critically important to the success of Kentucky schools. The passion and concern for children is palpable every time you enter a school in this state, and I am proud of the dedication and commitment I see.
What do you think are some of the unique aspects about education in Kentucky?
This state has courage. Leaders are not hesitant to begin reform initiatives when necessary and focus on providing every child the opportunity to succeed. Since the Kentucky Education Reform Act took effect, school leadership, the legislature and Kentucky Department of Education leadership have continually focused on ways to improve education and move the state forward. Despite differences in opinion or approach at times, you cannot question the concern and dedication of those involved in education.
What long-term goals do you have as a member of the board?
One of my long-term goals as a board member is to see that more students graduate college- and career-ready. For Kentucky to stay competitive in the global economy, our schools must produce graduates that can handle the challenges of higher education and the workforce. We must also stay the course during implementation of a new assessment and accountability system. It is my hope that the new system, when fully implemented, will directly improve student learning in all of our schools. The adoption of the Common Core State Standards is another long-term initiative, and I hope that teachers will embrace the new standards and continue to improve pedagogy in the classroom as a result.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
I was blessed to have many great teachers over the years. My favorite, though, was probably Lucille McNeely, my 5th-grade teacher at Caldwell County Elementary School in Princeton. She loved teaching, and you definitely felt that in her classroom. My love of reading and books was stoked in her classroom by exposure to some of Kentucky’s great authors. She gave all her students a solid foundation for future learning. Teaching was not just what she did – it was who she was. Ms. McNeely made learning fun and engaging for all students.
What do you want Kentucky’s past and current teachers to know about you?
I care deeply about children and believe all students in Kentucky deserve an outstanding education. Education is transformative and changes lives for young people unlike anything else.
Other than more money, what do Kentucky schools need most?
Support. Teaching is an incredibly challenging profession. Too often parents and community members are quick to complain or share concerns but too slow to compliment. Great work is going on every day in schools across the state, and encouragement and support is deserved for these efforts. We need to build on collaborative efforts from all stakeholders – parents, schools, state leadership, the business community and higher education.
What have you gained from your position as dean of student affairs that will help K-12 students leave high school college- and career-ready?
As all the data clearly shows, our graduating students are largely unprepared for college-level work. High schools must be reshaped to better prepare students for college and careers. We must move the “finish line” from completion of high school to the completion of postsecondary education programs. A high school diploma is not enough for future generations.
What personal trait will serve you best as a board member?
I’m very level-headed, and I always consider all sides of the issue before making a decision. The ultimate goal for all of us is to make sure every student in the state has the best possible education. Student learning and success must stay in the foreground, and all have good ideas that can get us there.
Wheeler believes education structures need updating for students to compete
Mary Gwen Wheeler, of Jefferson County, represents the 4th Supreme Court District. She is senior policy adviser on education and youth with the Louisville Metro Government. She is a member of the Jefferson County Public Education Foundation and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. Wheeler’s term will expire April 14, 2014.
Why is what you do as a board member important to teachers today?
Teacher effectiveness is the most important variable in whether a child’s learning is successful. Our role is to provide the framework where teachers have a clear understanding of the expectations for learning outcomes, the support and feedback needed to grow and develop as teachers, the freedom to inspire a love of learning, and tools to be the most effective they can be.
Where is education in Kentucky headed?
Kentucky’s trajectory is very encouraging. We’ve moved up dramatically from being last or next-to-last in almost every measure. Now our state ranks in the top 20 on several measures. Being the first state to adopt the Common Core (State) Standards is the most recent example of our willingness to pioneer improvements. Our challenge is to continue the sense of urgency and build on our successes so that all children have the opportunity to succeed.
What impact do you hope to bring to the board in the immediate future?
As a local government policy advisor on education, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of national networks looking at best practices and research-based approaches. I’m familiar with the data that makes clear the challenges facing districts, the commonwealth and the nation in terms of achievement and postsecondary attainment. I hope to use that knowledge to probe thoughtfully, balanced with a passion for excellence, impatience with the status quo and an understanding that policy frameworks need to be constructive, not destructive.
Other than parents and teachers, who – or what – has had the biggest effect on our on our students’ educations in the last few years in your opinion?
First, the rapidly changing information economy has brought new tools for learning and communication, but also competition for knowledge-based jobs. Our students now must compete with people from all over the world – rather than absorbing a lot of content knowledge, it is more important that they have the skills to make the unfamiliar familiar. Second, the dramatic changes legislated by Senate Bill 1 will improve the alignment of K-12 and postsecondary education, making the transition much more seamless for students. Last, the current administration’s use of the stimulus funds to create Race to the Top has brought an important national focus to the need for effective teaching and learning that is transforming how we collect data, assess progress and support teachers and school leaders – all with a focus on college and career readiness.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
Anton Schulzki, who taught me history in high school. He understood that the best learning takes place when students grapple with the subject; his strategy was to make us debate and argue and defend our opinions, and in the process, we honed our thinking and analytical skills and developed the capacity to guide our own learning. And, in turn, we learned the satisfaction and joy in figuring things out for ourselves.
What will teachers need most from the board?
A clear framework of expectations and how they will be evaluated; good data to guide continual improvement; and room to innovate.
What are the greatest successes you have seen in Kentucky schools?
I’ve talked about the great progress Kentucky has made in the last 20 years, which was accomplished by raising expectations and balancing accountability with support. We next need to raise expectations for all students to be college- and career-ready, to continue their education beyond high school and to seek ways to provide school leaders and teachers the resources to be successful.
What are the biggest obstacles facing Kentucky children?
Structures (calendars and use of time, credit requirements, classroom structures, disconnect between teacher support and evaluation systems and student-learning outcomes, role of athletics and more) that were created two centuries ago that do not match today’s information economy, flexible workplaces or information/communications systems.
What have you gained from your service with the Jefferson County Public Education Foundation (JCPEF) and Prichard Committee that will help you as a board member?
The Prichard Committee is the preeminent source of objective information, data and policy analysis in the commonwealth. My service on the committee helped me to understand the complex and multi-faceted aspects of K-12 policy frameworks (specifically the interaction of standards, assessments, time for professional development, talent recruitment, leadership development, parent education and input, and evaluation). As a board member for JCPEF, I learned that innovation is not often funded by public dollars – community backing is necessary.