Headshot of Stephen Pruitt

Stephen Pruitt

As Kentucky’s commissioner of education, I spend a lot of time talking and listening to people from across the Commonwealth.

But one of the curious things in education is while we tend to seek input from educators, parents and community members when making policy decisions, we don’t always seek input from those who are affected most by those decisions – the students. Thankfully that is not the case in Kentucky. Student input is valued at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and throughout the state by schools, districts and education advocacy groups.

In October, I held my first meeting of this year’s Commissioner’s Student Council. The council is made up of 22 students from across the Commonwealth – from urban to rural communities, and the Kentucky School for the Blind and the Kentucky School for the Deaf – who represent Kentucky’s more than 650,000 public school students. I enjoy every minute of my time with this group.

These students make me feel confident about the future of our state. They are thoughtful, well-spoken and eager to share their thoughts and opinions about how policies that are being considered in Frankfort will impact them and their peers in the classroom. The conversations I have with them lead to richer, deeper discussions among all of us here at the KDE.

It’s not just KDE that is seeking input from the Commonwealth’s students. The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence has its own Student Voice Team, which is comprised of middle school through college students. Its members have spoken at statewide education summits, testified before Kentucky’s Joint Legislative Education Committee and even helped draft legislation.

Students should have a place at the table on the local level too. Many school districts have their own superintendent advisory committee made up of students, and some local school boards have a special non-voting student member.

These positions aren’t just something nice for a student to post on their college applications. The students from whom I have sought input always take our conversations seriously and provide a unique perspective that informs discussions in significant ways.

With the holidays upon us, I think now is a great time for all of us to try making that deeper connection with young people, whether they are our students or our children.

Parents, having been the father of two teenagers, I understand that it’s not always easy to get your children to talk in any depth about what’s going on at their school. I know what it’s like to ask your child what they learned in school that day, only to get a shrug and have them say, “nothing.”

Keep making the effort. Keep asking questions about who your child’s favorite teacher is, what they learned in social studies that day or what they’re reading in English class. Keep making the effort to open up those lines of communication. You’ll be glad you did.

Teachers, it’s important for us to remember that education is not something that is done to a student. Education, at its best, is a partnership between teachers and their students. Engaged learners who take an active role in their education, who seek out ideas and information that challenges and excites them, are some of Kentucky’s best and most-promising students.

And students, I’ll be holding another series of town hall events across the state early next year to hear people’s concerns and get their input on what kinds of changes we need to make to high school graduation requirements. I invite you to come out and share your thoughts and ideas about what you need to be prepared for the next stage of your life, whether it’s more education or entering the workforce. I’m eager to hear what you have to say.

Until then, I hope everyone has a happy holiday season! I look forward to seeing you at one of our town hall sessions in the new year.