Changes offer new opportunities

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Stephen Pruitt
Stephen Pruitt

Whenever the holiday season draws close, I can’t help but start thinking about the new year. December is a time to reflect on the past 12 months and start looking forward to the year ahead.

We’ve seen a lot of change in the past year or so – no doubt about it. I’m now 14 months into the job, our Governor is almost a year into his term, and the President-elect will be sworn into office in January. For the first time in 80 years, one party controls both the executive and legislative branches of state government with a similar arrangement at the national level.

Regardless of how you voted, I think one thing that we all can agree on is that education is a critical component in the progress of our state and our country. It is key for our workforce, our ability to attract new business and jobs, our economic growth, and most importantly the quality of life for our students.

So let’s start there and work forward. Because whether you like it or not, change offers us new opportunities. When it comes to education, we have to put politics aside, take ownership for our responsibility as education shareholders and simply make the best decisions for students and their future success.

For the past year, we’ve been trying to do just that. We’ve been working on a new accountability system for Kentucky that is easier to understand and better reflects what all Kentuckians think is important for students to know. Thousands of people have provided input. More than 250 Kentuckians from within and outside the education community have been an integral part of this work. It hasn’t been easy and not everyone has agreed. But I am convinced that when all is said and done, we will have a system that will provide the public with a clear picture of how our schools are doing and will provide our schools with important information on how they can better meet the needs of their students.

We are in the midst of a field test of a new science assessment that is unlike anything we’ve done before. It is one that can better inform our teachers of where gaps in learning may exist, so they may address them along the way and students will know and be able to demonstrate how to apply the practices and concepts they have learned by the end of the year. Another new twist is the test is being developed by Kentucky teachers. I am proud of the hard work these teachers are putting in as they forge a new direction in science assessment, one that may well be a model we use for other content areas.

Work is ongoing to eliminate opportunity gaps that exist for some students, which lead to gaps later on in achievement. None of our students deserves anything less than our best effort to provide ample opportunities and access to learn, and a quality education that ultimately will prepare them to go to college, into workforce training program or the military.

All of the work cited above is grounded in educational research and collaboration with those on the front lines of education – our teachers. They are dedicated to our students and doing the best for them, but our teachers readily admit, they are growing weary of what they term “constant change.” This too is something we all need to remember. Change for change’s sake isn’t always a change for the best.

We sometimes can be so eager for change that we jump into programs or policies just because they are different. Novelty is no reason to eradicate the decades of educational improvements that have taken place in the Commonwealth. Any changes the legislature, the Kentucky Board of Education or the U.S. Department of Education make needs to be thoughtful, proven and consistent with where we – as a nation and as a state – want our children to go.

One thing that will not change in the coming year is my commitment – and the Kentucky Department of Education’s commitment – to the children of Kentucky. Whenever anyone asks me where I stand on an issue, I tell them that I stand with the children. The children are what get me out of bed every day and keep me going all day long. All of the people with whom I’m lucky enough to work at the department do not represent the institution. We represent the 650,000 children in Kentucky’s public schools and I assure you that commitment and dedication will never fade.

Yes, change is difficult and we all know there will be many changes in the weeks and months ahead. As long as we work together in good faith with a laser-like focus on what is best for Kentucky’s children, then both they and the entire Commonwealth will benefit.

Happy holidays and my best for a prosperous new year!

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