Next steps on the way to building a stronger education system in Kentucky

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Picture of Commissioner of Education Jason Glass
Commissioner Jason E. Glass

By now, you’ve hopefully heard about the Commissioner’s Virtual Listening Tour. For more than a month, I led a series of virtual town halls in conjunction with the education cooperatives and the University of Kentucky’s College of Education to hear directly from parents, students, educators and community members about what is and isn’t working in Kentucky’s education system.

We heard from more than 1,200 people, including many current public school students. I am thankful for every one of those people who took the time out of their busy evenings to share their stories about how education shaped their lives.

We did find some common themes over the course of our listening tour, such as the importance of providing meaningful instruction, providing motivation and support to students, and showing why learning certain content is necessary and how it can serve a purpose in students’ lives.

While some of the stories were about learning that happened in school classrooms, many did not, which – to me – reinforces the idea that learning is a lifelong activity. One of the things we need to build into our education system going forward is making sure that our students understand that learning is something you’ll do your whole life.

The conversations have allowed for stakeholders to not only share positive experiences, but also raise concerns about the state’s current education system. Many of the recurring issues that came up during the tour have surrounded funding to public education, equitable access for all students and perceived attacks on the teaching profession.

These are all things that we need to go to work on right away. We need to improve funding for education in Kentucky and we need to address the inequities in our system. We also need to stop denigrating the teaching profession, and instead start honoring and lifting up the teaching profession.

Now that the listening tour is complete, the Kentucky Coalition for Advancing Education will help us find themes in the input we received. Made up of a broad cross section of Kentucky’s residents, the coalition will meet five times throughout June and July with department staff and members of the Center for Innovation in Education (C!E) to create a document that captures the strengths and needs of Kentucky’s public education system and an aspirational vision for the students of the Commonwealth.

From this work, we will build a future vision of education that is based on positive and meaningful experiences and think about how we can create more of those.

One more thing I want to share. The listening tour showed me how well involving our students and all of Kentucky’s voices in the work we do here at the department can work. During the listening tour, it was students who led the discussions among our participants. At each stop of the tour, we received many compliments about how these students completed their tasks with professionalism and grace. It was a pleasure to see them work and a great reminder of how we need to make sure we continue to include the voices of those who are most impacted by education in all our decisions – our students and their families.

Going forward, expect to see more of this kind of KDE. It gets back to really engaging, involving and hearing directly from our stakeholders in the state and taking action based on what they say. This is an approach I wanted to add to the Kentucky Department of Education. People can expect that this is how we intend to do business.

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