A woman is standing next to a podium. She is talking to a group of photo. On the screen there is a prompt that reads: "If I have a problem, there is an adult from school that I can talk to"

More than 100 educators traveled from around the state to attend the Kentucky Department of Education’s Persistence to Graduation Summit on June 28-29 at the Central Bank Center in Lexington. (Photo by Lauren Green, June 29, 2023)

(LEXINGTON, KY) – More than 100 people traveled from across the state to attend the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE)’s Persistence to Graduation Summit on June 28-29 at the Central Bank Center.

The annual two-day event gave principals, educators, social service professionals, Family Resource and Youth Services Center (FRYSC) coordinators and community partners the opportunity to deepen their knowledge on how best to support students who may experience challenges to reaching graduation.

Sarah McIntosh, a branch manager in KDE’s Office of Continuous Improvement and Support, said attendance for the summit was up and feedback from those who attended was positive. 

“We were able to offer attendees great content to help our students who are at risk of not graduating,” McIntosh said. “Typically, these students have a variety of needs and there is not just one strategy that will be effective for all. Many of our sessions focused on expanded services and opportunities that benefit all students and improving outcomes across the board.”

Trevor Ragan, founder of The Learner Lab, kicked off the summit with a speech on learning and development. Ragan’s focus on individual learning was a theme throughout the event as he invited educators to explore strategies that promote student engagement, critical thinking and collaboration.  

Ragan shared insights from the latest research on mindset and provided actionable steps for educators to cultivate resilience and a love for learning in their students. He shared many relatable anecdotes, and told educators to embrace the challenges.  

The summit offered a wide variety of breakout sessions structured to encourage dialogue and leverage the expertise of the participants, as well as the session leaders. Topics included:

  • Well-rounded educational opportunities;
  • Safe and supportive learning environments;
  • Effective use of education technology;
  • Student transition and re-engagement strategies; and
  • Alternative education programming.

A session where practioners from the field shared their experiences, successes and challenges with implementing trauma-informed practices in their districts and schools was very engaging, McIntosh said.

“We want to share best practices and strategies with our districts, but we also want to help them develop a plan for implementation,” she said. “We want to go beyond the what and why and dig into the how.”

Franklin County Superintendent Mark Kopp led a breakout session exploring how William Cofield High School, an alternative school in his district, achieves a 95% graduation rate.  

Kopp explained the importance of adapting to the students who go through alternative routes to graduate.  

“All of the students in this program have a different set of needs that have to be met in order to succeed,” Kopp said. “Every student has a different set of curricula that is followed, which is created to accommodate the student and their needs. One of our main goals at WCHS is to instill life readiness skills.”  

Greta Stanfield, director of special education for Mason County schools, led a session about “reverse” career fairs. Rather than potential employees circulating among employers’ booths, the employers visit displays set up by the job seekers – in this case, the students. 

“The reverse career fair provides a platform for candidates to display their skills and innovations in a more interactive and memorable manner,” she said. “Job seekers have presentations that showcase their abilities.” 

She said the hands-on approach allows employers see the candidate’s expertise and creativity. “Students are able to connect with employers they are genuinely interested in, saving time and energy that would have been spent navigating a traditional career fair.”