A woman speaks as she sits at a desk

Joanna Stevens is the second active teacher member of the Kentucky Board of Education.
Photo by Joe Ragusa, Feb. 7, 2023

In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, I applied to be the ex-officio teacher member on the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) because “I want to be in the room where it happens.” My term began on July 1, 2022, and I joined a room of change agents passionate about improving education in our Commonwealth.

My fellow board members welcomed me immediately and made me feel like I belonged in the room, even with their illustrious credentials. They have impressive resumes in education, including two Kentucky Teachers of the Year, three retired superintendents, an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education and the former president of my alma mater, the University of Kentucky. Seven of the nine current board members were Kentucky classroom teachers during their esteemed careers. They not only appreciate the hard work of educators, but they can relate to the obstacles and challenges facing them. The chief learner, Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass, began his own career as a Kentucky public school teacher.

To say my experience on the KBE has been enlightening would be an understatement. There is a lot of preparation required for a board meeting and many people are involved. In addition to the board members, I was welcomed by the Kentucky Department of Education staff who make sure I am always equipped with the proper information, technology and accommodations. While some meeting topics are more directly related to my role as a secondary mathematics teacher, I appreciate the opportunity to holistically understand how legislation, policy, finances and regulations greatly impact education in our state. Each decision by the board is the result of hours of research and discussion, with Kentucky students always the primary focus. 

While it is difficult to miss two consecutive days in the classroom for each meeting, especially during a substitute teacher shortage, I always come back to my classroom inspired. During my tenure, the board has championed the Kentucky United We Learn vision. This vision has begun to take shape as committees have formed during my time on the board. After each board meeting, I look for ways to create vibrant learning experiences for my own students in my high school math classroom.

My Algebra II students recently wrapped up a probability unit where each student was given a boarding pass from the Titanic, including an actual passenger’s name. Students generated questions and gathered data to determine the probability of their passenger’s survival as we studied conditional probability, unions and intersections, and independent versus dependent events. This deeper learning opportunity engaged my students in the learning process as students were able to discuss how people of different ages, social classes and genders were treated differently. In my AP Computer Science Principles course, students are encouraged to create innovative apps that solve real problems in our school and community.

As a classroom teacher, I want more of these meaningful learning opportunities for my students. I am excited to embrace the United We Learn vision and I am looking forward to how it transforms the learning experiences for all Kentucky students. 

I have shared my KBE experience with my local school district.  With the support of my superintendent, I update my local school board regularly after each KBE meeting. My local board benefits by learning about the most recent developments at the state level and I have also given them insight into the important learning occurring in my classroom.

I begin each school year by asking students to share their dreams, calling them my “#DreamChasers.” Each student identifies a five-year dream and we focus on making that dream a reality. Empowering students to chase their dreams is my ultimate goal as a teacher. I encourage my students to dream big while embracing the quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” As their teacher, I try to model this behavior. I chased my dream of changing education for the better and applied to be the ex-officio teacher member on the Kentucky Board of Education.

I encourage any Kentucky teacher in the 1st Congressional District to embrace another “Hamilton” musical reference and “not throw away your shot” by applying to be the next one. 

Applications are open for the nonvoting teacher member of the Kentucky Board of Education.  Teacher applicants must be employed on a full-time basis by a Kentucky public school district and in a role for which Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB) certification is required. Applicants must not be employed in an administrative position and must reside in Kentucky’s 1st Congressional District.  Applications also are open for the nonvoting student member. Applications are due by March 6 at 5 p.m. ET. More information, including the application forms, can be found on Kentucky Teacher

Joanna Stevens is the second active teacher member of the Kentucky Board of Education. She is a National Board Certified Teacher from Garrard County Schools and the 2014 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.