The Kentucky United We Learn Council, designed to support the state’s vision for the future of public education in Kentucky known as United We Learn, met for the first time in Frankfort on Nov. 29 as part of a two-day convening.
The United We Learn vision builds around three big ideas: creating a more vibrant experience for every student, encouraging innovation in our schools – especially when it comes to assessment – and creating a bold new future for Kentucky’s schools through collaboration with our communities.
Seventy Kentucky residents were named to the council, which includes educators, administrators, family members, students and community members from across the Commonwealth. Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass said the council is part of the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) effort to gather feedback from across the state to become a more supportive partner to districts, schools, families and students.
“This council is a new way for a state education agency to engage with its stakeholders,” he said. “It is part of an intentional effort over the past two years to listen and respond to what people are telling us they want their schools to be like for their students. The three big ideas in United We Learn – students, innovation and community – came from people across Kentucky. This council continues that vision with a diverse group of stakeholders from across the Commonwealth.”
The council will be tasked with recommending strategic practice, policy and investment ideas that advance the United We Learn vision to state policymakers and the citizens of Kentucky. If there are issues that stand in the way of creating the kind of education system Kentuckians want, the Kentucky United We Learn Council will help KDE and the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) find those obstacles and recommend ways to remove them.
On day one, KBE Chair Lu S. Young welcomed the council and challenged its members to think boldly about how education can evolve in Kentucky through “moonshot thinking.” Citing President John F. Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the Moon” speech, she said the United We Learn vision is a modern-day “moonshot” for Kentucky’s public education system.
“Kentucky’s United We Learn vision aims to improve the human vision in bold, new ways,” she said. “We have set our sights on meeting the full spectrum of needs of every learner in every school in the Commonwealth, raising achievement for all learners and closing gaps among student groups, while intentionally engaging communities in fulfilling the unlimited promise of public schools in their own backyards.”
Part of the council’s charge will be to support local ownership of solutions that advance United We Learn’s three big ideas. During the first day, council members were able to hear about innovative learning from 18 public school districts, most of which are also Local Laboratories of Learning districts. Local Laboratories of Learning are community-based partnerships of diverse students, families, educators, business participants and local leaders that reflect the unique perspectives of a district.
Berea Independent is a part of KDE’s second Local Laboratories of Learning cohort. The district is currently working on making learning more meaningful and individualized by collaborating with community leaders to create strong community partnerships for student achievement. The community is engaging the schools through serving as mentors for career pathway advisory councils, providing international opportunities such as cultural and language courses and offering internships and apprenticeships to students.
Berea Independent Superintendent Diane Hatchett said this direction was informed by conversations with the community and, most importantly, students.
“Kids know better than anybody else. If we are wanting to change the accountability system, we have to speak to them,” she said.
Hatchett said the students who participated in the community feedback process were excited to provide their input and want school to reflect their passions. Students “want to have mentorships, apprenticeships and internships,” she said.
From the creation of United We Learn, student involvement has been at the forefront of all decisions and continues to be. Audrey Gilbert, a senior at Frankfort High School (Frankfort Independent) who plans on becoming a teacher, was selected to serve as interim chair.
“I really appreciated Audrey’s willingness to step up to serve as the interim chair of the council,” said Glass. “It is always exciting to have a young person invested in education in Kentucky, but as a future educator, I look forward to her input into which best practices can keep education improving in the Commonwealth.”
The council members will spend the second day road mapping their objectives for each of the three standing committees centered around one of the three big ideas of United We Learn.
Harrison County High School senior Trever Smith will be a part of the Vibrant Learning Experiences committee. Smith said he wants the council to help all Kentucky kids have equal chances for success.
“Those opportunities, there is a personal responsibility to look for them, but educators have to be able to afford those opportunities,” he said. “I think this council is going to really be important to enact enough change to not only offer those meaningful education experiences to every student, but also to the degree each student needs.”
The Kentucky United We Learn Council is supported with funds from the 2022 Competitive Grants for State Assessments award from the U.S. Department of Education, which will help advance innovations to move the state’s assessment and accountability system toward a competency-based education model.
Day two of the Kentucky United We Learn Council convening will be livestreamed on the KDE Media Portal.