Alissa Riley sits with her hands clasped together

Alissa Riley, the outgoing Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) nonvoting teacher member, speaks during her last KBE meeting. Photo by Joe Ragusa, Kentucky Department of Education, June 5, 2024

My favorite musical is “Wicked,” and my favorite song from this moving story of the origins of the Wicked Witch of the West is “For Good.” It is described in the song that people come into our lives for a specific purpose and not only do those individuals change us for the better, but they change us “for good.” I can relate this song to my experience over the last year serving on the Kentucky Board of Education. I have not just been changed for the better, but I have been changed for good.

For the last year, I have been changed by the individuals that sit in the seats around me. It is never far from my mind that the experience that each of you bring to this table is far superior than what I have brought, but I have always been made to feel like an equal and have always felt that you listened to my voice and my perspective.

Thank you to the members of the board. The passion that you have for public education, innovation, and the students and teachers of the Commonwealth shines. Keep advocating for the work that has been done and what is to come. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for public education in Kentucky, and I know that with each of you providing your input and expertise, it will be something spectacular.

To everyone at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) that I have interacted with in the last year – from Stacy Ball’s first phone call telling me that I had been selected to be on the board to Robin Fields Kinney leading KDE through this school year – each of you have had your hand in the success of the public education system in Kentucky. Your work here does not go unnoticed. The initiatives, the programs, and the way that this department is thinking outside of the box for public education is something to be commended. Thank you for changing the landscape of education in Kentucky for good.

To the teachers of this great Commonwealth, there are not enough thank-yous in the world for the work that you do on a daily basis. The hearts you touch, the minds that you enrich, are changed for good. I know there are tough days but what is wonderful about the profession of teaching is that those moments where you see a child succeed makes up for the hard times. To the more than 42,000 public school teachers in Kentucky, it has been an honor to represent each of you throughout this past year. Please know that this board and the individuals at KDE have your best interests at heart and will continue to make decisions that are student-centered and have you all in mind.

Lastly, I have to thank my support team. I have been able to serve on this board because of the support of my Christian County Public Schools (CCPS) family – my superintendent, Chris Bentzel, and Penny Knight, principal of Gateway Academy, both have been instrumental in growing me as an educator. If it wasn’t for my CCPS family, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. Each and every leader that I have worked for and the teachers that I have worked with have invested so much to help me realize that I can step out of my little corner in Hopkinsville to make a difference for public education in our state. Thank you CCPS for changing me for good.

A huge thank you to my parents, particularly to my dad, David Couch. I have watched my father serve the teachers, students, and public schools of Kentucky for more than 30 years. A huge reason that I became an educator was because I saw how much joy my dad got out of making an impact in our public school system. It has been an honor to serve on this board in his final year here at KDE, and I know that his innovations in educational technology in Kentucky will be felt for many, many years to come.

Lastly, to my biggest cheerleaders: my husband Joe and our son Aiden. Both of them always support my crazy ideas and big dreams. They both sat in the front row during my first meeting on the board, and they continue to have a front row seat to everything that I have done, cheering me on along the way. 

In closing, thank you for this opportunity, this privilege, this honor. Patrice McCrary told me the first time that we met that being on the Kentucky Board of Education is the pinnacle, and I wholeheartedly agree. There will not be many professional opportunities that top this one, and this has been an experience that I will never forget. To this board, the incredible staff at KDE, and to all the individuals that make up the fabric of public education in Kentucky, I leave you with the parting words of Elphaba: “… let me say this before we part, so much of me is made of what I learned from you. You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart.”

Thank you!