Getting ready for opening day

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Stephen Pruitt
Stephen Pruitt

I liken the start of the school year with a great musical, “Kiss Me Kate.” In the opening song, “Another Op’nin, Another Show,” eager actors and stagehands warmly greet each other while rushing to get ready for the next big production. The singers lament how they practice for weeks and don’t think they’ll ever be ready, then all of sudden, it’s the opening night.

The excitement you feel watching that opening act is palpable and it’s similar to the feelings I had as a science teacher. I remember the excitement I felt just before a new school year started, rushing to get the classroom ready, greeting colleagues, wondering if you’d ever be able to get everything ready in time. Then all of a sudden, it’s opening day and the students are pouring into your classroom to kick off another school year.

We’re quickly reaching the opening day on another school year and I feel just as much excitement now as I did back in my classroom. But this isn’t just another year. We have the chance to create something great in Kentucky and I want all of you – teachers and parents – to be involved. Here’s why.

In December 2015, Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the main federal law governing P-12 public education. Now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the measure replaces No Child Left Behind and creates a long-term policy that gives states additional flexibility and provides more state and local control over the accountability process.

Because of ESSA, we now have the opportunity reimagine what the Commonwealth’s accountability system should look like. We all know that the current system is too confusing and does little to help parents understand whether their child’s school is succeeding or failing.

I like to say that an accountability system should be able to be explained to anyone in the time it takes to wait in line at the express checkout at your local grocery store. With the system we now have in place, you need to be in the regular line, behind three people with full carts who all are using two-party, post-dated checks to pay for their groceries!

We have the opportunity now to change all of that.

There are many people already hard at work re-envisioning what Kentucky’s accountability system should look like. We’ve already kicked off the first meetings of the Commissioner’s Accountability Steering Committee and the accountability work groups. The work groups have been tasked with designing various elements of the new school accountability system.

The work groups will focus on:

  • Assessment – how Kentucky’s new accountability system should measure academic achievement for all students.
  • College- and Career-Readiness – how college- and career-readiness should be defined and measured in Kentucky’s new accountability model.
  • Educational Innovations – what new and innovative approaches could be integrated into Kentucky’s new accountability model.
  • Opportunity and Access – how Kentucky’s new accountability model can measure equal opportunity for all students to a well-rounded education.
  • School Improvement – how our new accountability model can incentivize continuous improvement for all schools.

Each work group will make recommendations to the Accountability Steering Committee, which will in turn make recommendations on the overall system to me. The tentative plan is to have the proposed system ready for public feedback in November. That’s where you come in.

I want as much public feedback as possible when the new proposed accountability system is unveiled later this fall. I want as many people as possible to look at the new system, see if it makes sense, and consider whether it could accurately capture what we mean by a successful school in the Commonwealth.

Your input is important because ultimately, these aren’t my schools and they aren’t the legislature’s schools. This new accountability system will be the tool used to measure how well your schools – the ones you entrust your children to and the ones where you work so hard every day – are serving your children and your community. That responsibility to educate the Commonwealth’s children and give them the skills they will need to succeed in life is one of the most important responsibilities I can think of and we must get this system right.

We’ll be sending out information in many ways to make sure you stay on top of all the developments of the accountability system. Be sure to check out the Kentucky Department of Education’s webpage on ESSA frequently, where you will find the latest information about the law, proposed federal regulations and links to the steering committee and the work groups meetings where you can read about what they are up to.

Also with the beginning of the school year, I want to remind you to keep an eye out for the big yellow school buses that will be returning to the streets every morning. It’s important for all of us who share the road with buses to remember that stopping for a school bus with the red stop sign arm extended and lights flashing isn’t just a suggestion, it’s the law.

160725 TransportationBillboard 1While stopping for a school bus might be a minor inconvenience for drivers, it could be a matter of life or death for a child. To reinforce that message, some 45 billboards will be placed across the state warning drivers of the dangers of passing a stopped school bus.

The billboards are part of a back to school campaign on bus safety in Kentucky. Resources to raise awareness of bus safety among drivers, parents and students are available on the KDE website.

It is paramount that our children arrive at school and back home safely each day, so I call on all Kentuckians to be especially cautious around school buses, not just at the beginning of the school year, but anytime they approach one of the big yellow vehicles. Our children’s lives depend on it.

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