Several business, government and education leaders announced this week the launch of a new non-profit organization that will encourage and support innovative new approaches in Kentucky classrooms.

The announcement came at a news conference at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Frankfort.

The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky (The Fund) will start off by partnering with the Kentucky Department of

Education (KDE) to administer two recent grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation totaling nearly $3 million. The first grant will help establish teacher networks and forums so innovative teachers can more easily “connect” with other teachers around the state and share promising new ideas for improving student outcomes.

The second grant is aimed at bringing together teachers in the “core” subject areas, such as science and math, so they can collaborate on assignments for students. It is hoped that this collaboration will yield significant improvements in student achievement.

In addition to overseeing those grants over the next three years, The Fund will also raise additional finances to support other innovative projects, such as providing “venture capital” to individual teachers and schools that have promising new ideas but need additional resources to move forward.

“Those of us in business typically set aside funds for research and development,” said Billy Harper, a Paducah business leader who is chairman of The Fund. “This R&D is what leads to improved products and services, sustains jobs, and gives us a competitive edge. We hope The Fund will play the same sort of role in encouraging and supporting innovative new approaches in education, pre-school through high school, and thus help build on all the recent progress made in our state.”

“Overseeing the work sponsored by the Gates Foundation will obviously be our top priority for the next couple of years,” said Harper. “But looking further down the road, we will work to raise more money so we can provide an even bigger boost for innovative thinkers in schools. Although we have not set any long-term fundraising targets, we have received lots of encouragement from individuals, corporations, and foundations. So we think our goal of providing seed money for breakthrough ideas will have appeal to the many folks and organizations who want to help further transform education in Kentucky.”

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday, Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, and other state education and government leaders offered their support.

“I very much welcome the formation of The Fund,” said Holliday. “Kentucky is blessed with several excellent organizations, such as the Prichard Committee, which have been advocates for change. “These organizations have helped spur the outstanding reform that has taken place here over the past two decades, and the need for that advocacy continues. But I believe The Fund will play a different role, by providing external support for promising ideas and for so-called ‘Districts of Innovation.’ This sort of outside agent can be critical, and we greatly appreciate having them as a partner.”

Holliday cited the Colorado Legacy Foundation, which started in 2008 and has partnered with the Colorado Department of Education on several successful projects, as a good model for The Fund.

“I have been very impressed by their work,” he said. “They have been very successful, especially in appealing to local and national foundations that wanted to support innovation in schools but preferred to give to a non-profit rather than state government. I think The Fund will have much the same appeal here in Kentucky, and the same transformational effect.”

Some Kentucky districts are trying out innovative new practices and getting great results, leading to lots of attention from state and national media. For example, Eminence Independent District is using technology, not as a goal in itself but rather as a very effective tool to personalize instruction and better engage students. And in Danville, teachers from very different subject areas are now collaborating in exciting ways to help students better understand how skills in one subject area can relate to another.

“These are the sorts of innovative practices The Fund will be trying to foster and replicate,” said Abramson.

Initially, The Fund’s office will be located at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in Frankfort.