As I drove away from the interview with the Kentucky Board of Education to become the Commonwealth’s sixth commissioner of education, my wife Cecelia turned to me and asked me one simple question.
“This wasn’t in the plan, was it?”
No, it hadn’t been in the plan. The plan had involved working to improve science education and definitely not being a commissioner of education. For five years, my work with science education had been a labor of love. I had the privilege of working alongside some of the nation’s best minds – teachers and scientists alike – to craft the standards designed to help prepare students for the increasingly complex and technological world in which they live.
Although that had been the plan, Kentucky happened. I had never applied for a job as commissioner of education before, although I was not unfamiliar with the position, having served several roles — including chief of staff with the Georgia Department of Education — before beginning my tenure with Achieve. The fact that I applied to be commissioner here has everything to do with Kentucky. The Commonwealth is one of those rare places where big ideas in education – like the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 and Senate Bill 1 in 2009 – aren’t just talked about. In Kentucky, big ideas happen.
I had to be a part of it. It was my calling.
Kentucky already has made great strides in education, such as the impressive feat of increasing the college- and career-readiness rate from 34 percent in 2010 to 62 percent last year. This year, it increased again to almost 67 percent of the Commonwealth’s high school graduates being prepared to either enter the workforce, a postsecondary training program, the military or enroll in college and begin taking credit-bearing classes without a need for remediation.
True, there is more work to do, as last month’s release of K-PREP scores showed. The number of students scoring at the proficient level plateaued over the past year. We already are working on ways to keep all students progressing, helping them have a deeper understanding of the world around them. There is still work to be done and the Commonwealth’s teachers, schools and districts, as well as the Kentucky Department of Education, are up to the task.
As Kentucky’s new commissioner of education, I want you to know that I value your views, your input and your help in preparing our students for tomorrow. That’s why I am traveling the state to meet parents, educators and students – to see what is happening where the rubber meets the road, the classroom.
My grandmother was a teacher, so was my mother and so am I. Just because my office is in Frankfort doesn’t mean that my heart isn’t still in the classroom. I know the look on a child’s face when they understand something for the first time. I remember as a teacher what it felt like to see that recognition dawning.
I am also a parent. I see the victorious moments that make me proud that my children are public school students. I want every parent to see their child victorious in their education. Those are the things that keep me going.
I am honored and humbled that the Kentucky Board of Education chose me as its commissioner of education – to lead the charge for educational improvement for our children. I am proud to call myself a Kentuckian, even if it wasn’t a part of my original plan. I wouldn’t have it any other way.