KBE SPOTLIGHT | JoAnn Adams’ roots in Kentucky public education run deep

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JoAnn Adams, center, a member of the Kentucky Board of Education, talks with McKenzie Hallman, left, and Keaton Mossman, two members of the Scott High School (Kenton County) student council, during a visit to the school. Photo by Mike Marsee, Feb. 26, 2020
JoAnn Adams, center, a member of the Kentucky Board of Education, talks with McKenzie Hallman, left, and Keaton Mossman, two members of the Scott High School (Kenton County) student council, during a visit to the school. Adams taught for 33 years in Washington, Shelby and Henry counties, and she continues to volunteer in schools.
Photo by Mike Marsee, Feb. 26, 2020
  • Adams was in the classroom when special education requirements took effect and when the Kentucky Education Reform Act was implemented.
  • Adams has a special affinity for rural school districts and is a champion for arts education.

By Mike Marsee
mike.marsee@education.ky.gov

Long before she was part of any school’s faculty, JoAnn Adams knew her way around a faculty meeting.

Adams came from a family of teachers, and she sat through more than her share of meetings as a student in Anderson and Washington counties with her mother and grandmother.

Those meetings helped her prepare for the career she always knew she would have.

“I never really thought I would do anything else,” Adams said. “I had been to more PTA meetings and faculty meetings by the time I got out of school than most teachers. I just knew that’s what I was going to do.”

Adams’ roots in Kentucky public education run deep. She has been either a student or a teacher in a rural school for virtually her entire life. Her family of teachers included her mother, grandmother, grandfather and great-grandmother. Her daughter now teaches English at Henry County High School, and her granddaughter attends a Henry County school.

She has devoted virtually her entire life to children and she continues to do so as a member of the Kentucky Board of Education.

“I’ve been in a classroom, I’ve volunteered and worked with kids in my free time,” she said. “To me, service is giving back to your community and to the people that you care about. When I was given an opportunity to serve kids and my community and my state, I couldn’t say no.”

Adams, who holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a Rank II certification from Eastern Kentucky University, had a 33-year teaching career that put her on the front lines for two major education initiatives.

She began as a special education teacher in Washington County not long after Congress passed legislation in 1975 that made special education programs mandatory in U.S. schools.

“It was at the very beginning of special ed in schools,” she said. “I wanted to work with kids with special needs and I was hired the first year that went into effect.”

Kentucky Board of Education member JoAnn Adams, left, talks with 2019 Milken Educator Award winner Laura Cole, right, and Principal Brennon Sapp during a visit to Scott High School (Kenton County). Photo by Mike Marsee, Feb. 26, 2020
Kentucky Board of Education member JoAnn Adams, left, talks with 2019 Milken Educator Award winner Laura Cole, right, and Principal Brennon Sapp during a visit to Scott High School (Kenton County). Adams began her career as a special education teacher in Washington County not long after Congress passed legislation in 1975 that made special education programs mandatory in U.S. schools.
Photo by Mike Marsee, Feb. 26, 2020

Adams, who taught special education for 16 years in Washington, Shelby and Henry counties, said befriending a girl with special needs who rode her school bus sparked her interest in working with special needs students.

“She would sit with me every day and we became really good friends,” she said. “She’s the one who got me involved.”

In 1993, Adams switched to a general education classroom in Henry County as changes brought about by the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) in 1990 began to take effect.

“When KERA came in, I wanted to be in a regular classroom to be part of what was going on,” she said. “I saw faculties actually coming together and saying, ‘This is what our school needs to do and this is how we get there.’ Teachers were looking for training in new writing concepts, new math concepts, going out and getting training on their own.

“It was an exciting time. A lot of teachers weren’t happy at the time, but I was thrilled with it.”

She first moved to a 6th-grade classroom, then taught social studies and language arts at the middle school level.

Adams has lived on a 150-acre family farm in Henry County for more than 40 years, and she and her husband operate a craft and agritourism business on their family farm. They have restored a nearly 200-year-old Dutch meetinghouse on the property where she hosts yoga classes and spinning and knitting groups that make use of the wool produced by the sheep they raise. She also sells items that she makes from that wool.

Having lived and taught in rural areas throughout her life, Adams has a special affinity for rural school districts.

“I know what those kids in rural districts have to offer and I also know what they’re up against,” she said. “There are areas where there is lots of business and lots of development, but some of our rural districts don’t have that tax base for their schools. We really need to continue going forward with the gains we made with KERA.”

Adams also is an advocate for arts education. She said she saw how valuable it was to her daughter, who was involved in theater and music, and has seen how important it is to other students as well.

“Kids in the arts are always scared that that’s going to be taken away, and that’s very important to me,” she said. “I’ve seen what education in the arts can do for a kid. Kids that struggled elsewhere were musicians, they were artists, they were actors. When you see those kids excelling in those things, it just makes my heart explode to see what they can do.”

Since her retirement in 2010, Adams has volunteered in Henry County schools, serving as a mentor to students and as a live scorer for on-demand writing assessments. She also has worked with the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association.

“I feel like I have been in a classroom my entire life and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” she said.

Adams’ term will expire April 14, 2024.

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