Editor’s Note: Three candidates remain for the job of Kentucky Commissioner of Education, and they were each asked the same three questions about themselves and their plans for the department.
Felicia Cumings Smith, Ed. D., has spent almost her entire career in Kentucky education, starting as an elementary and reading resource teacher in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), where today she serves as assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.
She also has been active in education on the national level, serving as senior program officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for two years and for a year as a director of the National Center on Education and the Economy. Even in those positions, her work focused on Kentucky.
Now she’s one of three finalists seeking to become Kentucky’s next commissioner of education, along with Jason Glass and Julian Vasquez Heilig. The Kentucky Board of Education expects to make a decision this month.
Smith, a Kentucky native, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education from the University of Louisville. She received her doctorate in instruction and administration and Rank 1 certification in instructional leadership from the University of Kentucky.
After teaching for five years, she became a literacy consultant in the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Office of Academic and Personnel Development, then executive director of UK’s Collaborative Center for Literacy Development. For five years, she was a KDE associate commissioner before her move to the National Center on Education and the Economy. Along the way, Smith has served on numerous boards on education and related subjects.
Finally, in 2017, she was named assistant superintendent at JCPS, where she oversees strategies for implementing curriculum and instruction, federal programs, library media supports and professional learning.
Why do you want to be Kentucky’s next commissioner of education?
“I am really honored to be considered to be Kentucky’s next commissioner, primarily because I have dedicated my entire career to the children, teachers and leaders of this state,” Smith said.
“I am excited about this opportunity now, because I think the timing is right for Kentucky to be back in the top 10 of educational opportunity,” Smith said, adding she wants to work with school superintendents and boards, students and families to create new opportunities for young people.
What would be your first major priority as commissioner?
“First, I would listen to superintendents, teachers and families about reopening schools during and after the COVID-19 crisis,” Smith said.
There are several questions still lingering and she wants to be accessible to multiple groups at the local level – not just to hear their questions and concerns, but to gather their ideas for reopening.
“It is paramount that we move forward and move through this together to get on the other side of the pandemic,” Smith said, adding that Kentucky students and teachers need to return to some sense of normalcy as they prepare for the upcoming school year.
Tell us something about yourself that you think is personally interesting, or which would have some impact on your job as commissioner.
She said what sets her apart from others is that she’s seen Kentucky education from preschool through college and from multiple vantage points. She also has worked with nonprofits, foundations and higher education.
“That should also help the education community, at large, see that I have a depth and breadth of how to create a coherent system for young people, to get them prepared for the workforce and life as a means to transform what’s happening across the state,” Smith said.
As a woman of color, she said she believes it’s time for the state to recognize women – and women of color – in leadership.
“I believe I would bring a different perspective in leading with empathy, while also remaining focused on results,” Smith said. She noted that educators are public servants first, and their goal should be to provide the best learning experience possible for each and every learner across the Commonwealth.
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