By Jennifer Ginn
Interim Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis would like to see a lot more McKayla Hamlins in Kentucky.
Hamlin, a 2015 graduate of McCreary Central High School (McCreary County), discovered her passion for health care while still in high school. She completed a pre-nursing career pathway, earned a medical nurse aide certification and multiple dual credits before graduation. She received a degree in public health in 2018 at the University of Kentucky, and now is on track to get her medical degree in dentistry from the University of Louisville in 2022.
“McKayla’s work in high school in that pre-nursing pathway, in that health care pathway, is what provided the foundation for her to explore what might be possible later on,” Lewis said. “She didn’t have to know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life when she was in high school. But by providing her the opportunity to explore and do some very intentional preparation, she was set up for success in college and is now headed for a career as a professional.”
Lewis shared Hamlin’s story Aug. 28 at his State of Education address at the Jessamine Career and Technology Center.
“Also in McCreary County, Evan Jones, while a student at McCreary Central, discovered a passion for AutoCAD in their new engineering technology design pathway,” Lewis said. “He decided to pursue a degree at the University of Kentucky and he is currently employed at East Kentucky power in Burnside Ky.
“The thing I want you to remember if you don’t remember the details of McKayla’s story or Evan’s story or any of the young people whom you had the opportunity to meet when you were here tonight, is that these kids – Evan and McKayla – are no different than any of the rest of our kids across this Commonwealth. Every one of our children, regardless of their background, regardless of their circumstances, has the God-given ability and the potential to make something incredible of their lives.”
But all too often, Lewis said, Kentucky isn’t doing a good job of helping its students live up to their potential. He highlighted a study done by the Kentucky Center for Statistics that showed an alarming number of high school graduates are not completing postsecondary credentials within eight years of graduation.
“There were more than 37,000 students who graduated in the Class of 2010. Eight years later, just under 10,000 have achieved an industry certificate, associate degree, bachelor’s degree or higher,” he said. “That is simply unacceptable. There will be more than 400,000 job openings in Kentucky over the next five years, and more than 36 percent of those jobs require some training beyond high school.”
Lewis challenged school leaders to work with students to inform them about careers and wages in Kentucky’s high-demand industry sectors, as identified by the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board.
Earlier this summer, Lewis named two of his top priorities as interim commissioner as increasing the percentage of high school students completing career and technical education pathways and earning industry-recognized credentials in high-demand sectors; and increasing the number and percentage of high school students successfully completing early postsecondary opportunities, such as dual credit and Advanced Placement. During his address, he urged school leaders to continue to develop programs that will help meet these goals, including meeting the target goal of college and career readiness. In 2017, the goal was set for 73.5 percent of students to be transition ready upon graduation, however only 65.6 percent of students met that goal.
“College students who completed an early postsecondary opportunity in high school are three times as likely to be on-track to graduate college on time,” said Lewis. “If we are going to increase postsecondary success in this state, then we must encourage more students to take advantage of early opportunities. Through programs like the Dual Credit Scholarship and the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship, cost is no longer a barrier.”
As part of that effort, Lewis announced in July the What Will You Be, Kentucky? Campaign aimed at increasing awareness about career and technical education (CTE) careers. The campaign spotlights careers in Kentucky’s five high-demand workforce sectors – advanced manufacturing, business/IT, construction trades, healthcare and transportation/logistics – through sharing the education, career training and job experiences of Kentuckians. What Will You Be, Kentucky? is accepting stories from the public to help students in the Commonwealth find their future careers. Stories can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lewis said another key to helping children succeed is finding new ways to get more parents involved in their children’s education.
“I don’t care where a parent is from, I don’t care what their economic background is, what their circumstances are or their education level,” he said, “there is not a parent in this Commonwealth that doesn’t want the absolute best for their children. Even if that parent might be unsure about how to provide what’s best for his or her kids, parents want the best for their children.
“We must find a way to engage and empower parents across this Commonwealth like we never have before. If we can find ways to engage and empower parents, give them the opportunity to play a much more meaningful role in the lives and education of their kids within these buildings, I think we’re going to have an education revolution on our hands.”
Lewis closed his address by saying the conversation on education in Kentucky must shift back to the needs of students and parents.
“For the next year we must have a focused conversation on kids and parents,” he said. “Tay Reed, a Ballard High School student in Louisville, survived a gunshot wound three years ago. He is now an A and B student being mentored by Louisville community activist Christopher 2X. In today’s culture, whether you live in the West End of Louisville or in an Eastern Kentucky community where opioids and other drugs are rampant, having a high-quality education can be the difference between life and death.”