By Jennifer Ginn
Ashland’s Laura Timberlake became a new member of the Kentucky Board of Education in April.
Timberlake is chief operating officer for Big Sandy Distribution/Big Sandy Superstores, a large furniture store chain with more than 800 employees and 17 retail locations. She also is the immediate past chairwoman of the Foundation for the Tri-State and serves on the boards of the Ashland Alliance and Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital, where she chairs the Audit and Compliance Committee.
Timberlake has a bachelor’s degree in human resources management from Park University with minors in finance and accounting, and she obtained a certified employee benefit specialist designation from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Timberlake also is a former bank vice-president and trust officer and has been an active member of the Shawnee State University Workforce Advisory Panel and the Ashland Community and Technical College’s career resource program.
Kentucky Teacher staff had a chance recently to ask Timberlake about her priorities while serving on the Kentucky Board of Education. Here’s what she had to say.
Why were you interested in serving on the Kentucky Board of Education?
“I was interested in serving on the Kentucky Board of Education for multiple reasons. The first being that I have children in our public school system. The second is my desire to bridge the gap between the business community and K-12 to ensure a successful future for all of Kentucky’s children. Last, I wanted to give my extended community in Eastern Kentucky a voice.”
What impact do you hope to have on the board?
“I hope to help effectuate real change. It will not be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. My main goal is to ensure clearly defined career pathways are developed and/or enhanced for Kentucky students. Unfortunately, we graduate far too many students from our high schools with zero knowledge of job opportunities. If we can help steer the course at a much earlier age, imagine the possibilities.”
Other than more money, what do Kentucky schools need most?
“Kentucky schools need more resources, aside from money, like specialized training to understand how to adapt their styles of teaching to better serve their students’ different styles of learning. Our schools also need access to mental health professionals and behavioral therapists to assist those children who are dealing with the unimaginable outside of school.”
What are the greatest strengths of Kentucky’s schools? And what are their biggest challenges?
“Our greatest strength in our Kentucky schools is our teachers. We have to provide them with the support and resources they need to orchestrate real change locally.
“The biggest challenge Kentucky schools are facing is budgetary cuts and poverty in both our rural and metro areas. Children are not going to be ready to learn when they fear for their safety at home or are worried about where they will get their next meal.”
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
“My favorite teacher was my momma, Jacque Brownstead. She taught the elementary gifted program in the Ashland Public School System and I was fortunate to be under her direction one day a week for three years. She took the traditional classroom and turned it upside down, always expecting more out of each and every student. She is retired now, but still demonstrating her teacher role with my children today.”
One of the Kentucky Department of Education’s priorities is to address the achievement gap. How do you think we can do that?
“To address the achievement gap, we have to intervene at as early an age as possible to target at-risk students. This will include ensuring there is no actual learning disability in play requiring attention out of the gate. Often times, learning disabilities are not discovered until much later.
“We need to be working with the children found to be at risk of falling behind the learning curve have open conversations with parents/guardians to ascertain what resources they need to keep them on track. There are so many community organizations our schools could partner with to assist with their basic needs outside of the school.”
What else would you like Kentucky’s educators to know about you?
“Kentucky is my home and all of the Commonwealth’s children are my people. The future is so bright from a business perspective and our economy is growing. Let’s give our children the best opportunity for success by guiding them on a career path from an early age that corresponds to job availability in our communities. We owe them that at a minimum.
“I’m honored to serve on behalf of my children and the kiddos of our fine state.”