New school year brings transition for teachers, KDE

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Education Commissioner Terry Holliday
Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

A new school year is beginning for Kentucky teachers and students. Here at the Department of Education, we’ve kept busy watching a special legislative session to pass a new two-year budget, submitting the state’s application for Phase 2 of Race to the Top and preparing for this transitional year before changes are implemented as a result of 2009’s Senate Bill 1 (SB 1). There’s a lot going on, and I’d like to take this opportunity to give you the highlights of where we are and where we’re heading this coming school year.

Biennial budget

In late May, the General Assembly passed a $17.3 billion biennial budget. Some highlights of the budget are as follows:

  • Many of KDE programs will see a 3.5% cut from current levels in FY 2011 and an additional 1% cut in FY 2012 (for a total cut of 4.5% from current levels in 2012).
  • The budget requires that the equivalent of 177 six-hour instructional days be provided in each fiscal year.
  • SEEK is funded at a per-pupil amount of $3,868 in FY 2011 and $3,903 in FY 2012.
  • KDE must have a regulation for “innovative alternative school calendars” in place prior to approval of calendars for FY 2011 and 2012.

The budget also funds a free basic health plan for state and local district employees. The state’s health policy board will determine other plans in time for open enrollment in October.

KDE is working through what this budget means to the department and school districts and how to target the available dollars to the key areas identified in our strategic plan.

Race to the Top

Kentucky has submitted its application for Phase 2 of the Race to the Top initiative, and the department awaits the announcement of grants in September. The major changes to the state’s application occurred in the area of great teachers and leaders, where a much stronger proposal was created. Collaboration with our partners on the Race to the Top Steering Committee and the subcommittee formed on Teacher Effectiveness was critical to helping us make these improvements. We expect between eight and thirteen states to receive funding in the final round, and if funded, Kentucky will be eligible for $60 million to $175 million.

Common Core State Standards

In June, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers released the final set of state-led Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and mathematics. SB 1 required KDE to develop new standards in these areas, and the 2010-11 school year is one of transition in preparation for full implementation of new standards in schools.

The first step of this transition occurred over the summer at the Kentucky Content Leadership Networks. These networks invited teachers to come and learn about the new standards through professional development focused on capacity building. Participants made connections between what they are learning and the needs in their districts, then will use the knowledge, resources and tools from the network meetings to develop a plan specific to their districts needs.

This kind of training results in a long-term sustainable model that best lends itself to delivery in professional learning communities throughout the school year as well as collaborating with institutions of higher education and educational cooperatives very closely to provide sustained professional learning opportunities.

Reflecting back and looking ahead

During my first year as commissioner of education, I’ve made an effort to be out in districts and schools, often spending time talking with teachers, students, administrators and staff. The educators tell me their work is challenging, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Kentucky educators know they have the unique opportunity and the responsibility to make a difference in the lives of Kentucky’s children every school day.

When I arrived last August, I promised to be visible and accessible and to make myself available to hear your comments, questions and concerns. I hope I’ve kept that promise. I’d like to express my gratitude to all those who have helped make this first year a time of continuous progress. I’m still as excited about the opportunities we have to help our students excel as I was on my first day on the job.

We are educators. Our collective goal must be student success. We must work together to expand our thinking and continue to develop effective and efficient strategies for higher learning. Our efforts and our contributions will set the pace for Kentucky’s future.

(To comment on this topic, contact Commissioner Holliday at terry.holliday@education.ky.gov)

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