A picture of Lu S. Young, chair of the Kentucky Board of Education, talking to another member of the state board, which is seated at desks in a conference room.

The Kentucky Board of Education approved a measure to release Breathitt County Schools from state assistance at its Feb. 8 meeting. Photo by Joe Ragusa, Kentucky Department of Education

After more than 10 years, Breathitt County Schools will no longer be under any form of state management or assistance.

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) approved a measure to release Breathitt County Schools from state assistance at its Feb. 8 meeting. The school district had been under state management since December 2012 and was moved to state assistance in December 2019.

With the move, no Kentucky school districts are currently under state assistance.

In September 2022, a Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) management audit team took a comprehensive look at the progress Breathitt County Schools has made since the move to state assistance, including 180 interviews with various district officials and other stakeholders.

The KDE audit team still found areas the district needs to continue working on, as outlined in the Breathitt County Management Audit Report, but the team ultimately determined the “significant lack of efficiency and effectiveness” that led to state management in the first place no longer exists.

Breathitt County Schools Superintendent Phillip Watts, who took over as superintendent five years ago, said he’s proud of the progress the district has made.

“We are very humbled and thankful to be here today,” he said.

Watts also praised KDE for having a strong team available to address their needs throughout the state management and assistance process.

“I know they’re a phone call away and they’ve always been very supportive of Breathitt County Schools,” he said.

Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster in KDE’s Office of Continuous Improvement and Support said Watts has fostered a culture of learning that prioritizes students.

“They’ve had a long journey,” said Foster, “and the culture of that entire district has changed.”

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass said even though Watts didn’t seek the spotlight, he handled the pressure of the situation well, with the people in his community in mind.

“I really admire you as a leader,” Glass said about Watts.

Kentucky Teacher of the Year outlines her platform

2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year Mandy Perez, a 6th-grade English language arts teacher with Crittenden County Schools, detailed her priorities for her six-month stint as a Kentucky teacher ambassador with KDE.

“I have been given opportunities that I would have only been able to dream of,” she said.

Her main objective is reimagining library spaces to better serve the needs of students.

“My idea here was to take the traditional library and open it up to different types of laboratories,” said Perez.

Her priorities with new library spaces include:

  • Social-emotional learning labs
  • Reading incentives labs
  • Makerspace/STEM labs
  • Digital media/communications labs

Perez said students could use the social-emotional learning labs as a way to relieve stress, and they could include things like vision boards or exercise options to help students deal with things in and out of the classroom.

“Kids right now struggle greatly, and they don’t care one bit about that content if they’ve got something going on at home,” she said.

The reading incentives labs could include book clubs, promotional events or even author visits to entice children to read.

Perez said the STEM or digital media labs may require some additional funding, but some districts already have similar options in place for more hands-on learning experiences like working with a laser engraver, 3D printer and media equipment.

Perez’s role also allows her to represent Kentucky teachers and students at the state and national level this year, and she will offer feedback on resources and programs to KDE staff.

KDE Communications Director Toni Konz Tatman said the department received 1,124 unique nominations for the 2024 Kentucky Teacher of the Year from across the Commonwealth, including at least one from each district.

Board hears update on Career and Technical Education Month

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, and KDE Office of Career and Technical Education Associate Commissioner Beth Hargis updated the board on the progress Kentucky schools have made with CTE programs.

“This helps us raise the awareness of CTE and really celebrate the accomplishments of our students and all of our CTE partners,” Hargis said.

During the 2021-2022 school year, 71% of Kentucky high school students – nearly 140,000 students – participated in a CTE program. Hargis said the programs lead to better outcomes for the students that participate in them, including higher employment rates after graduation and higher wages.

“Kentucky truly does set the standard for high-quality CTE,” Hargis said.

Several students representing career and technical student organizations (CTSO) updated the board about their individual programs and the benefits they provide. Hargis said each group has broken records for membership this year.

The CTSOs will showcase their projects during the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Showcase at the Kentucky State Capitol on Feb. 21 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. ET.

In other business:

  • Audrey Gilbert, a senior at Frankfort High School (Frankfort Independent), was awarded the 2022 Kevin C. Brown Strategic Priority Award;
  • The board approved amendments to 703 KAR 5:270, Kentucky’s Accountability System, to add postsecondary readiness indicators; and
  • The board discussed biennial budget requests and the six-year capital improvement plan.