Alissa Riley, an educator in the Christian County Public Schools system for 14 years, is the new teacher representative on the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE). She will serve in this non-voting position from July 1, 2023, through June 30, 2024.
Riley, who will be the board’s third active teacher member in history, heard about the KBE position through social media and said she thought it would be a good opportunity to contribute to the state’s education system.
“I’m a product of Kentucky public schools,” she said. “I have a child that is in public school and I’m married to an administrator, so I want to advocate for public education, for teachers and students.”
Making a difference in Kentucky is important to Riley, not only for her own family and district, but for all of the state’s students and teachers.
“I could sit here in my little corner of Christian County and advocate locally, but I want to do it on a much larger scale,” she said.
Kentucky Education Commissioner and Chief Learner Jason E. Glass said that he is excited to welcome someone with so much experience and different educational experiences to the board.
“As a teacher who has worked in the classroom for so long, Alissa can provide the board with firsthand knowledge, experience and vision to help us move forward in providing the best education and opportunities for all of Kentucky’s students,” he said. “Having a teacher present during the making of policy decisions is invaluable, and we are excited to receive her input.”
Riley received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2007 from Western Kentucky University (WKU), then went on to serve as a primary grade teacher for the first 13 years of her career.
“I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a teacher. I have never wanted to be in any other field or pursue any other career. When people talk about their dream jobs, I can proudly say that I am living my dream,” she said.
In 2016, she earned her master’s degree in teacher leadership, with an endorsement in WKU’s elementary math specialist program. Since January of 2022, she has been working toward earning National Board Certification in the area of early childhood generalist, for which she will receive her Rank 1.
Riley currently works at Gateway Academy to Innovation and Technology (Christian County) and as an adjunct professor with Murray State University, where she teaches two dual credit courses to nearly 50 high schoolers who want to go into the field of education. She said that was a big change from the elementary age students with which she was used to working.
“If you had asked me this time last year if I would teach high school, I would have told you no. That never in a million years that I’d ever teach high schoolers, but I really enjoy it,” she said. “I like seeing their passion for education, because something I really advocate for is teacher retention and recruitment. And so, to see that students are interested in at least learning about the profession is really exciting to me.”
Teacher retention and recruitment is one of several challenges in Kentucky’s education system that Riley would like to contribute her knowledge, experience and voice to while on the KBE.
“We’re facing a crisis and it’s not just a Kentucky issue, it’s a United States issue,” she said. “But what can we personally do for our students here?”
Riley also would like to help address the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and, “recoup that knowledge piece that a lot of our students lost” during that time.
She is interested in helping improve career readiness and the career and technical education programs in Kentucky. These have become increasingly important to her in the past year from the work she’s done at Gateway Academy.
“I’m seeing students that, you know, college is not for them, and they know that,” she said. “So, what can we do for those students that want to enter the career field in some kind of trade or some kind of industrial job to be able to give them what they need to be successful?”
The last challenge Riley would like to address centers around her experience with early elementary education.
“I fully support preschool that’s fully funded,” she said. “I believe that’s really, really important. I taught kindergarten for eight years and worked with kids that were never in a school setting. And when you have students that are coming in that have never had any academic or social, emotional anything, they’re already starting out at a disadvantage compared to peers that went to a preschool.”
In addition to her extensive knowledge of leading in the classroom, Riley has experience leading outside of it. Throughout her career, she has served on her school’s site-based decision making council and her district’s math cohort. In 2018, she helped revise the standards for mathematics on a state level. She has been a Go Teach KY ambassador, a Student Technology Leadership Program advisor, a Kentucky Youth Assembly advisor and a mentor for four pre-service teachers.
In the past year of her time at Gateway Academy, she also has worked as the advisor for Educators Rising, was a member of the Christian County Superintendent Advisory Council, has been on Gateway Academy’s Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports committee and has been her school’s representative on Christian County Public Schools’ Teacher Voice Committee.
Riley said her involvement in these leadership and extracurricular teaching activities has taught her big lessons on how important it is to hear varying perspectives from others, and how to take those into your own considerations. She said it has helped her differentiate what may be important to her versus what’s important for the greater good – a trait she says she will be carrying with her to her position on the KBE.
“I’m coming into this with a lot of different ways of the lens, of looking at education as a teacher and a parent, the wife of somebody that works in education. So, I hope that I can give my perspective and then I can also take on the perspective of others, and just have conversations about that,” she said.
Riley says she is lucky to be living her dream.
“I get to have an impact on the lives of students. I have the ability to shape the landscape of education and I have the privilege of advocating for a profession that I have loved every single day since 2008,” she said.
“I am ready to give back to the state and public education system that has given me so much,” Riley said. “Being on KBE will allow me to give back not only to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but to the educators that give of themselves day in and day out and to the students that walk through the doors of all 1,233 schools in our state on a daily basis.”
Riley will replace Garrard County High School teacher Joanna Stevens, who will wrap up her one year term on the board June 30.