- Coleman spent 10 years as a teacher, basketball coach, instructional coach and assistant principal prior to being selected as Gov. Andy Beshear’s running mate.
- Coleman said her role on the board is to help members see the “30,000-foot view” of how their work will impact students across Kentucky.
By Mike Marsee
Jacqueline Coleman knows all about time and situation.
It’s a lesson every good basketball coach learns – a good play is only good if it’s right for the time and situation your team is in – and one Coleman relearned the first time she appeared on a ballot as a candidate for the Kentucky House of Representatives in 2014.
Five years later, when she returned to politics as Gov. Andy Beshear’s running mate in the 2019 gubernatorial election, the former high school basketball coach knew the time and situation were right for an advocate for public education.
“That race taught me a lesson I’ve always known as a coach, which is the importance of time and situation,” Coleman said. “Those are the lesson a coach learns: If you get beat, take a look at the film and figure out how you can go out and improve it.
“At the time I ran, folks weren’t really focused on the issues in public education because those issues hadn’t really come to fruition yet, but I did see them coming down the pike. Cut to 2017, and I’m surrounded by 12,000 teachers at the Capitol. Now everybody gets it.”
Coleman stated during the campaign that education would be one of her top priorities if she was elected lieutenant governor. Following Beshear and Coleman’s victory, the governor-elect named her secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.
The latter position affords her a seat on the Kentucky Board of Education as an ex officio member, where she said her role is to help the board see the big picture.
“My contribution to the board is that 30,000-foot view of how policy impacts kids across Kentucky,” she said.
At 38, Coleman is one of the youngest members of the board, and she said she is impressed by her fellow board members’ resumes.
“They’ve had amazing careers and have all these accolades. If I was still in the classroom, not only would I feel happy with this board, but I would feel wanted, because I would know the people making those decisions for our classrooms have walked in those shoes before me,” she said.
Coleman, who spent 10 years as an educator before joining Beshear’s campaign in 2018, said she never envisioned herself in this position, even though her family has a long history of public service.
“All of the issues that arose in public education were being addressed by people who had never had a career in the classroom, so I started to advocate for the students in my classroom,” she said. “My background is in political science, so I thought through teaching political science and government I would use that knowledge to be an advocate. I did not really ever see myself in the arena.
“My circumstances changed one day when I got a phone call from Andy Beshear and he asked me if I wanted to run with him. We talked about the focus of public education and I saw this as an opportunity not just to affect kids in my classroom, but across Kentucky.”
Coleman said her interest in education developed during her time as a student at Centre College.
“I feel like for so many kids, it’s the key to changing their lives,” she said. “I grew up in a home where I was fortunate to have everything I needed, but so many kids I went to school with didn’t. I really believe the way we can remedy that is through education, to create a better life for ourselves.”
Coleman holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Centre College, where she played basketball, and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Louisville, where she was a graduate assistant coach for the women’s basketball team. She is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Kentucky.
The granddaughter of University of Louisville and NBA player Jack Coleman, she worked in three Kentucky school districts – Burgin Independent, Jessamine County and Nelson County – as a teacher, basketball coach, instructional coach and assistant principal.
She coached girls basketball for 8 1/2 seasons, compiling a 119-116 record at Burgin, East Jessamine and Nelson County high schools. She led Nelson County to a regional championship and a trip to the Girls Sweet 16 in 2017.
Along the way, she founded Lead Kentucky, a nonprofit organization that has helped women attending Kentucky colleges become the next generation of leaders by helping them seek leadership positions on their campuses and across Kentucky.
“I’m committed to keeping that going. That’s something that’s very important to me, making sure college women get the support they need and the encouragement they need to become the next generation of leaders,” Coleman said.
Coleman’s great-great-grandfather, Clell Coleman, was elected Kentucky’s commissioner of agriculture in 1923 and state auditor in 1927. Her father, Jack Jr., served in the Kentucky House of Representatives for 14 years and is currently a Harrodsburg city commissioner.
“My dad was the public servant who had the greatest impact on my life,” Coleman said. “He was a middle-of-the-road guy who wanted to work with everyone to solve problems. He didn’t care which team you were on or what letter was beside your name; he just wanted to help people.
Much of Jack Coleman Jr.’s time in the General Assembly coincided with his daughter’s school years.
“I got so I would go to work with him on snow days,” Jacqueline Coleman said. “I knew every nook and cranny of the Capitol – and I knew which offices had the best candy.”
Coleman said the transition from educator to lieutenant governor has been “a very interesting one.”
“I joke with people that my last job involved discipline for juniors and seniors, so life in Frankfort is really not all that different,” she said. “It’s not quite as personal as being in public education, but at the same time it gives you a much different perspective because you have to think about all the different regions in Kentucky.”