Audrey Gilbert was named the winner of the Kentucky Board of Education’s (KBE’s) 2022 Kevin C. Brown Strategic Priority Award at its Feb. 8 regular meeting.
“I am honored to receive this award,” said Gilbert, a senior at Frankfort High School (Frankfort Independent) and an intern in KDE’s Office of Continuous Improvement and Support (OCIS). “United We Learn gives me hope as a student and future educator that we are working towards a more innovative future, and I am grateful to be able to contribute to that work.”
The award is named for Kevin C. Brown, general counsel for Jefferson County Public Schools, who has held several prominent roles at KDE. Most recently he served as interim commissioner of education from December 2019 to September 2020, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You are the face of a new era of Kentucky education …,” Brown said. “Thank you and your student colleagues for what you do.”
“On behalf of the board and the Kentucky Department of Education, we’re proud of you,” said Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass.
The annual award recognizes a person, group, organization, district, school or postsecondary institution who, through policy, practice, fundraising or philanthropy, and despite any challenges, has made it a top priority to provide for the well-being of Kentucky students and to provide them with high-quality educational experiences.
“Seeing the change happening around the state and embracing the unique work that our schools are doing has inspired me to put my effort into this larger initiative,” Gilbert said of United We Learn, Kentucky’s vision for the future of public education in the Commonwealth. “Being recognized for the work that I have done with United We Learn is especially meaningful to me because of the commitment to co-creation that has been at the center of this movement that embraced my passion and ideas.”
Gilbert, who was named interim chair of the Kentucky United We Learn Council in November, received multiple nominations for the award.
Matthew Courtney, who along with KDE Director of Innovative Learning David Cook and KDE Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster nominated Gilbert, said she has lent her voice and expertise to many OCIS projects.
“She has a true hunger for knowledge and always seeks to fully understand the historical and societal influences that have shaped past policy before advocating for changes to future policy,” said Courtney.
Gilbert joined OCIS after spending a year serving as a student member on Frankfort Independent’s Local Laboratories of Learning (L3) committee and as the student representative on KDE’s internal L3 design team. She has helped L3 districts expand their thinking about the role students can play in co-creating their own educational experiences.
“Through her internship experience, Audrey is living the United We Learn vision,” Courtney said. “She is engaging deeply in rich learning experiences that allow her to deploy her existing skills while simultaneously working to develop new skills. Through her modeling, Audrey is showing KDE staff what deeper learning is all about and has inspired staff to innovate in new ways.”
Gilbert’s leadership and commitment also serves as an inspiration to other students and youth leaders.
“There are very few high school peers that I look towards and know will change the world. Audrey Gilbert is undoubtedly one of them,” said Arnav Dharmagadda, a senior at Russell Independent High School and a member of the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council who also nominated Gilbert. “She never ceases to amaze me in her commitment to Kentucky education and the success of the next generation of the Commonwealth. This tradition of dedication as a youth leader will only grow exponentially as she pursues a career in education.”
Gilbert plans to become a high school English teacher to help students develop their critical thinking skills and learn about the world around them.
In addition to her United We Learn work, Gilbert also serves in other areas to advance education. As a member of the Prichard Committee’s Kentucky Student Voice Team, Gilbert serves as school climate audit co-lead and the Measurement, Assessment and Accountability lead. She directs research, including school climate audits, to evaluate how Kentucky’s students feel at school and what actions may improve their experience.
Gilbert also is encouraging the next generation of teachers as the founder of Frankfort High School’s Educators Rising chapter. She serves as the Educators Rising National Student Ambassador and president of the state organization.
“Giving this award to a student like Audrey showcases the department’s commitment to the inclusion of all voices,” said Dharmagadda.