- Akers joined the Education and Professional Standards Board last year just prior to its merger with KDE.
- He heads a KDE office that serves educators and prospective educators in areas including recruitment and training, certification and professional learning.
By Mike Marsee
It wasn’t long after Rob Akers turned to teaching that he began to find his niche.
His decision in college to shift from business to education led him first to the classroom, then on to school-based decision making councils, to coaching and leadership positions and later to administration. He became, in his own words, “an administrator who focused on moving obstacles for teachers so they could work better in the classroom.”
That remains an accurate job description for Akers in his relatively new role as associate commissioner in the Kentucky Department of Education’s newly created Office of Educator Licensure and Effectiveness (OELE).
Akers joined KDE in August to head the office that was created when the agency arm of the Education and Professional Standards Board (EPSB) returned to KDE for the first time in about 20 years. OELE offices were moved to KDE’s headquarters in December as part of an agency-wide reorganization, and the office was expanded to include two previously existing KDE divisions. About 30 staff members moved with the office, which now includes 50 to 60 people, including field staff.
Akers, a Versailles resident, is in his 26th year in education. The son of two career educators, he began as an English teacher before becoming a guidance counselor and later associate principal at his alma mater, Tates Creek High School (Fayette County).
He spent 13 years as principal at Woodford County High School before joining KDE. He was appointed to the EPSB in 2016 and later served as chairman before resigning the board to join the agency.
His wife has worked in education in Woodford County for 26 years; she is currently a school counselor.
Kentucky Teacher talked with Akers about his new role and the role of his office.
What is the role of the Office of Educator Licensure and Effectiveness?
“The cool thing about the new office is that we’re kind of all things teacher, all the way from the career and technical education teaching pathway that’s in the schools for growing our own to teacher recruitment and minority recruitment, accreditation of educator prep programs, certification, professional development and professional learning.
“We really cover everybody, from pre-service teaching to teacher development all the way through. It’s pretty cool to have that all in one shop, because there was a fragmented approach to it. We were siloed at EPSB in terms of the teacher prep side and educator ethics, so we didn’t work hand in hand with the folks at KDE who were working on professional learning and development and recruitment. To have that in one shop now where we can work collaboratively, I think, is going to be a benefit.”
How does your office’s work impact students?
“That’s what I love about this office: Our work touches every professional educator in Kentucky. So our goal of creating a process by which we support the creation of the most highly qualified educators in Kentucky directly impacts and affects student achievement in Kentucky every day.
“It’s a point of pride for us as an office that everything we do directly touches teachers and students every day. I’m really proud of how seriously all the folks in this office take their work and how much pride they take in supporting teachers and helping them do their jobs.”
How has the transition been for you and your staff members who were affected by the merger and the move?
“The agency has been very welcoming for the EPSB folks. The move was kind of a scary proposition for them, and they’ve been welcomed with open arms. We could not ask for a better reception, and now that we’re all here, it’s nice to be connected with everyone and the work that’s going on.”
What are some of the things your office does well?
“What’s amazing is when I started back in August, that’s in the absolute highs season for EPSB. They go through about 100,000 pieces of mail from early May to the middle of September, and they certify about 14,000 to 15,000 individual certifications. With the merger, a lot of the previous leadership had moved to other positions, and these folks just carried on the work independently to make sure that all the teachers and educators out there had what they needed. I think it just shows incredible commitment to the work.
“All of the work with our educator prep programs and making sure teaching candidates were being taken care of as they move into their ed prep programs, all that work continued, so that’s been impressive.
“We merged with the Division of Next Generation Professionals at KDE, and there were people who moved to other areas in the department, and their work was still going on. I’ve been so impressed with Robin Hebert and Todd Davis, who have been helping to lead at both sites. They’ve been continuing their work with this team, helping move the work forward there and do new work and helping to train me on what it means to work at an agency.”
“I’ve just been so impressed with the commitment to getting the work done and loyalty to the job, knowing that if they don’t do their job, that teachers are not going to have what they need. It makes my job really easy when you have people that are that driven to do good work.”
What are some things your office is working on?
“We’re developing a proficiency pathway so that if you have some folks coming out of college who have a degree in another field or if they’re trying to switch areas, there’s flexibility within our educator prep program to look at you individually, to see what boxes you check and to tailor a program for you.
“We’re trying to create more flexibility for districts, especially at a time when it’s hard to find teachers. We’re trying to take down some of the barriers for getting quality teachers.
“We’re trying to find ways to get greater representation from marginalized populations of teachers. Are there any gatekeeping mechanisms that we can work around to still ensure that we get quality people, but also a more diverse, much broader pool of candidates? We know that we need as diverse a workforce as we can get to meet the needs of a diverse population of kids.
“We are going to be piloting a digital application for the certification process, and we expect to be fully online for the spring graduates. We’re really trying to go paperless, and that’s going to be a big deal if we can get that done.
“As we see Rank II programs being developed for teachers, districts and co-ops are going to have some great opportunities there. We’re also, as a state, revisiting the principal certification program, and that’s going really well.”
How does your office support schools and districts through the Division of Next Generation Professionals?
“I just really want our mindset to be one of support, not of compliance. When schools or our partners call, I want us to be able to look at regs and say, ‘Is there enough flexibility here for us to be able to help you get what you want?’ whether we think it’s the best idea or not. Our best idea may not be the best thing for their context, and we need to be able to help them be as flexible as we can.
“That is something I appreciate about the commissioner: He really wants to provide as much flexibility and autonomy to our partners as possible so that we can help support them. I really buy into that mindset, and that’s something that we’re going to do our best to do here.”
Do you miss working in schools?
“I miss a lot of the people. It’s hard to teach for that long and not miss that daily interaction. But everything here is brand new to me, so I’m enjoying all the learning that I’m doing and all the people I’m meeting and the opportunities I’m having.
“Learning the higher ed side has been really cool, getting to work with the leaders and the deans of the ed prep programs. Knowing that we’re going to have an impact on teacher quality is pretty exciting, and to be able to have some influence in that broader sphere is exciting for me.”