I wanted to start my first column as Kentucky’s new commissioner of education to let you know how happy I am to be back home and how honored I am to have been selected to help move the Commonwealth’s schools forward during these unprecedented times.
I know this is the most unusual opening Kentucky – and the rest of the country – probably has ever had. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and I stand ready to help all our districts as the school year begins. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, apply for any waivers offered by the federal government that can assist our teachers and students, provide more guidance as needed and continue to be a resource for our schools and districts as they help their students learn and grow, regardless of where that education is taking place.
I know this has been a tough time for us all, and tempers can flare as we all work to do what we think is in the best interests of our students and communities. We have a lot of questions that are difficult to answer and have no clear-cut solutions. We all want what’s best for Kentucky’s public school students, but figuring out what’s best is something we all struggle with daily.
I wish that I could predict or direct what will happen and over the next several months – but no one can. We will need to remain flexible and adaptable as conditions change in order to keep learning going while also keeping everyone safe.
This seems hard because it is. I want you to know that these feelings are normal and I am experiencing them too. Our family has relocated to Kentucky during this pandemic and my own children are starting school remotely, missing their friends and unable to make new ones, and living in a hotel in temporary conditions – so I definitely understand how difficult this is. I firmly believe that we have to find ways to keep learning going, while also taking every step we can to keep our kids, staff, and communities safe. We need to be patient and be kind with each other as we forge a path forward. There will come a time when this virus does not rule our lives and we should all look forward to that day with joy and great anticipation.
I also want you to know that I wholeheartedly support the Kentucky Board of Education’s pledge of commitment to racial equity. I share their beliefs that we must provide a high-quality education for all the state’s children regardless of their color, especially our Black and brown students who have been underserved for far too long. We must have deeper conversations about bias and how it can be hurting our co-workers, students and their families. We must change the lens we use to look at the world before we can make meaningful changes that are just and will help all of Kentucky.
I am not looking for a quick fix. This change, like all changes, will take time and I hope all of you will join us in the difficult, but necessary, work that lies ahead.
As if the challenges of COVID-19 and taking on the issues of anti-racism and equity were not enough, budget cuts are likely headed our way when the legislature reconvenes in January. The nationwide shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt businesses and families, so a budget that was looking hopeful just nine months ago is decidedly more pessimistic. Tough economic times are ahead, but know that I will always be an advocate for Kentucky’s public education system. I will focus on the good things our schools and students have done and I will fight for the funding we need to continue moving forward.
I believe public education is one of the greatest success stories in our nation’s history. Education runs deep in my family, as my grandmother, both of my parents, my sister and I were all public school teachers in the state.
I know how schools often are at the heart of a community. They are where we see our children perform or play sports. They are where we catch up with old friends and family. They are often one of a community’s largest and best employers. I believe that public schools are the launching pad for our state’s next generation of teachers, entrepreneurs, business leaders and community leaders.
While some may think it trite or cliche, I think we all need to listen to Kentucky’s motto, now more than ever: United We Stand, Divided We Fall. I am glad to be back home and I look forward to working together to help all of our state’s children get the education they need to fulfill their dreams.