Every day in Kumar Rashad’s classroom is a call for urgency.
“Many of my students have died or got shot and killed,” said Rashad, a mathematics teacher at Breckinridge Metropolitan High School in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), an alternative school with students who have been in the criminal justice system.
“I want to put a valve switch on that pipeline, because that way we can redirect them from the prison to somewhere successful,” Rashad said.
Rashad has taught at the school for seven years, but he is not just a teacher. He is a support system for his students beyond their education.
For his efforts, he was awarded the 2024 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year Award on Sept. 13 at the Kentucky state Capitol building in Frankfort.
“I’m really happy to be considered for this. Teachers don’t brag about ourselves,” said Rashad. “We try to remain humble and honestly, if my friend didn’t nominate me, I would not have been here.”
Rashad has spent nearly 22 years in education. He obtained his bachelor’s in pure mathematics from Kentucky State University, and a master’s of art and teaching in secondary mathematics from the University of Louisville. Along with mathematics, he also teaches a course called “Developing Black Historical Consciences.”
The school is primarily targeted for students who have been in the criminal justice system as “they normally send them here to Breckinridge for us to work with them to get them on the right path,” Rashad said.
He said the relationships built between him and his students are irreplaceable, especially when those students desperately need a positive change in their lives.
“If you’re not making it in here, there are large chances that you will probably drop out,” Rashad said. “For some students, if they don’t come to school they automatically go to jail because they don’t meet the educational criteria.
He serves as the advisor to the Men of Quality mentoring program for at-risk youth at the school, where students are taught to navigate freedom, justice, equity and representation.
“We talk about manhood and being responsible,” Rashad said. “They need me, but in some ways, I can say that I truly need them. They help me define my purpose and stay focused.”
Rashad also serves on the JCPS Advisory Council for Racial Equity , a committee that reviews district policies under a racial justice lens. Under this program, Rashad said JCPS has increased representation for people of color in the classroom, in administration and in other areas of education.
He has been featured on the cover of the National Education Association (NEA) Today magazine, which highlighted an initiative he created for an NEA minority recruitment and training program. He said he hopes programs like this will give his students a chance for future success.
Rashad said providing an avenue for students to change and turn their lives around can be difficult at times, but it is a role he would not give up for anything.
“I often feel like (these students are) at my school because other adults didn’t take that chance,” Rashad said “We try to make up for it here and love them.”