It’s been a little over a year now since I joined the Kentucky Department of Education as its commissioner. During that time, my focus has been on listening to the people of my home state telling us what is working in education in the Commonwealth and where we need to improve.
Through the Keep, Stop, Start survey that took place shortly after I arrived to the virtual listening tour that took place earlier this year, we have heard from thousands of you telling us about the kind of education you want your children to have.
The Kentucky Coalition for Advancing Education – a large and diverse group comprised of more than 50 parents, teachers, school leaders and community members from across the state – took all that information and created a report called “United We Learn: Hearing Kentucky’s Voices on the Future of Education,” which also is available in Spanish.
What we’ve learned is that students want to be seen as their whole self, not just as a test score. Our schools and our community members want to create deeper and more meaningful connections that can help support success for all our students and families. And everybody wants to take an honest and open look at where inequities exist in our current system and respond to those inequities in a systematic way that recognizes the unique circumstances of every district, every school and every family.
To bring this bold vision for Kentucky’s schools to life, we need a united effort that engages every community and school in the Commonwealth. Our kids cannot wait for political action for our work to begin.
Although lawmakers and policymakers will hopefully significantly help this effort, the changes we need will happen in communities and classrooms and should begin today. We do not need permission to begin improving learning experiences for Kentucky’s children.
Our work already has begun with Kentucky’s Innovative Learning Network. Seven districts – Allen, Fleming, Frankfort Independent, Jefferson, Johnson, Logan and Shelby – currently serve as full Local Laboratories of Learning (L3s), where they are piloting new assessment, accountability and learning approaches. These districts also have formed local and inclusive coalitions to guide their work. We will learn from their experiences and help to bring about the large-scale changes for our entire state.
Beyond these leading districts, opportunities to engage communities and create deep and meaningful learning experiences for students abound in our Commonwealth. We call upon every district, school and community to engage with this effort and help us bring about a bold new era of education in Kentucky.
As I think about this next step, I am reminded of something that Penny Christian – a Fayette County parent who serves on the Kentucky Coalition for Advancing Education – said at the 2021 Kentucky Education Summit we held in November.
Penny said parents shouldn’t wait to be given a seat at the table to begin working on ways to improve the public education system. If you don’t have a seat, she said, build your own table.
We’ve got a big job ahead of us, to dream boldly on what our education system should be and start taking actions now to get there. We need all our families, community members, educators, education leaders and policymakers to work together to create the kind of public school system we’ve heard you tell us you want for your children.
I am a proud 3rd-generation Kentucky educator and a parent who is raising two students who attend our public schools in Fayette County.
I believe in our state, our nation and our public schools. While optimism about the future seems in short supply these days, I have been in our schools and seen our children and our educators hard at work – and because of that, I believe our best days are still before us.
I’m excited about entering this new future of education; one that is built by Kentuckians, for Kentuckians.