KBE SPOTLIGHT | David Karem has deep roots in Kentucky public education

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Kentucky Board of Education Chairman David Karem talks with Bloom Elementary School students about their technology projects during a February 2020 visit to the school.
Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) Chairman David Karem talks with Bloom Elementary School students about their technology projects during a February 2020 visit to the school. Karem has been a champion of public education for more than 40 years while serving in the Kentucky General Assembly and the KBE.
Photo by Toni Konz Tatman, February 2020
  • David Karem has been a champion of public education for more than 40 years while serving in the Kentucky General Assembly and the Kentucky Board of Education.
  • During his time in the legislature, Karem was a driving force behind the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) in 1990 and the Postsecondary Education Reform Act in 1997.

By Jacob Perkins
Jacob.perkins@education.ky.gov

A lot of people say that they want to save public schools.

David Karem, chairman of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE), has done just that.

Bloom Elementary School (Jefferson County) was built in 1896 and was then renovated in the 1960’s.

“The serious discussion about the future of Bloom started around 2001 when there was resistance to a plan to close that building and build a new structure,” Karem recalled.

After long consideration, the Jefferson County schools decided that the school needed to be replaced. They recommended moving Bloom from its long-standing location in the Highlands neighborhood and onto Atherton High School’s campus a few miles away.

Even though Atherton’s campus had more than enough space to accommodate the addition of the elementary school, the Highlands community was very vocal about keeping Bloom at its current – and historic – location.  

Karem, then a member of the Kentucky General Assembly, stepped in to intervene.

“After a lot of support to save Bloom in place, the local school board agreed to a preservation plan,” he said. “I was very involved, as well as many others, in the desire to save Bloom.”

The school only sits on one-acre and state regulations would not allow for it to remain on such a small site. Karem pushed for an exemption that allowed Jefferson County to renovate and rebuild on its current location.

Bloom was fully renovated – a process that would take a couple of years – and reopened in 2005. 

Karem has been a champion of public education for more than 40 years while serving in the Kentucky General Assembly and the KBE. His efforts in both venues have been crucial in shaping state-level education policy that ensures Kentucky’s children can compete in today’s global economy.

“One of the real charges of the constitution of our Commonwealth is the provision to provide for a system of common schools across this state,” Karem said. “And that system really requires that we develop a system and continue to work on a public education system that is fair and equal and provides opportunities for every child.”

He is in his second stint with the board, having previously served as a member from 2009 to 2016 and as chairman from 2010 to 2013.

“I am honored to be called back by Gov. Andy Beshear to be asked to serve in this capacity,” he said. “I just cannot express how strongly I feel about public education in Kentucky.”

Karem’s family has deep roots in public education. His wife, Anne, taught in Jefferson County. His parents were both teachers who went on to become lawyers.

Both sons are graduates of Jefferson County schools. His oldest son received his doctorate from Yale and is head of the English department at Cleveland State University. His youngest son has a doctorate in computer science from the University of Louisville Speed School of Engineering and is on the faculty at UofL as a professor in computer science.

“I believe that the background and the education they received in the Jefferson County Public Schools is one of the real rewards Anne and I consider in our lives,” he said. “Over the years when I have talked to different groups and talked about education, I first and foremost thank the teachers who taught my children.

“Obviously had my sons not had such an affection and respect for what they learned in public schools, they would not have gone on to higher education and gotten their doctorates,” Karem said.

David Karem visits a classroom at Bloom Elementary School (Jefferson County) in February 2020.
David Karem visits a classroom at Bloom Elementary School (Jefferson County) in February 2020. Karem played an important role in keeping Bloom at its current – and historic – location.
Photo by Toni Konz Tatman, February 2020

The David Karem Award, later renamed the Karem Award for Excellence in Education Policy, was established in 2017 by KBE in his honor to recognize state policymakers, education leaders or citizens who have made notable, state-level contributions to the improvement of Kentucky’s public education system. The award was first presented in 2017.

Karem served in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1972 to 1974. He returned to the legislature two years later, this time representing the 35th District in the Kentucky Senate from 1976 to 2004. He was the Senate’s majority floor leader from 1993 to 1999, and he was on education committees in the House and Senate for 32 1/2 of his 33 years in public office.

During his time in the legislature, Karem was a driving force behind the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990 and the Postsecondary Education Reform Act in 1997 and led the effort for a 4% school tax levy by districts.

He served for 33 years as president of Louisville’s Waterfront Development Corporation, which has worked to develop and maintain the city’s Waterfront Park. He began a one-year term as director emeritus upon his retirement in July 2019. He also was a member of the Louisville Downtown Development Corporation’s board of directors from 2006 to 2018.

Karem holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture, art and planning from the University of Cincinnati and a doctorate in law from the University of Louisville.

He is a graduate of St. Xavier High School in Louisville.

Editor’s Note: David Karem served on the Kentucky Board of Education from Dec. 12, 2019, to April 15, 2020.

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