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The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) sought more feedback on the search for a new education commissioner during the Commissioner’s Principals Advisory Council meeting on Sept. 28.

Outgoing Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass is leaving Sept. 29 after three years leading KDE. Following his departure, KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney will take over as interim while the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) and KDE search for a permanent commissioner. More details about the process can be found on the 2023-2024 Commissioner Search webpage.

Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) member JoAnn Adams asked council members what qualities they want in a new education commissioner and what that new commissioner’s priorities should be.

Nick Brooks, principal at Wolfe County Middle School, said he wants to see someone who plans to be commissioner long term.

“Somebody that can work with people from different ideologies and really wants to be here and wants to be here long term so that they can push that vision through,” he said.

Several principals spoke about improving efforts to recruit students to become teachers, mentioning efforts like Educators Rising as something they would like to see more of.

“It would be nice to have somebody that will help build the environment, make it stronger for students who are coming out of high school to want to join the teaching profession,” said Wayne Ackerman, principal at Russell County Middle School.

Ackerman also voiced approval of the additional career and technical education (CTE) pathway for teaching and learning, saying that making it easier to become a teacher and creating a supportive environment around teaching will be crucial.

KDE operates the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) and the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD). KSB Principal Peggy Sinclair-Morris said having a commissioner with a deep understanding of special education will be important.

“I mean, that’s all that I deal with, but I think out in the districts, we’re seeing more and more complex kids and more and more special needs,” she said.

Equity also was a concern among the principals. Anne Cox, principal at Reidland Elementary School (McCracken County), said many young learners do not come into school on equal footing with their peers, and having a commissioner who can think through that issue is important.

“Some of our kids have not been exposed to anything (educational) prior to setting foot into kindergarten, and it makes it very difficult to make it so that all of our students are capable of achieving their highest level,” she said. “And it’s a lot to put on some of our younger grade-level teachers.”

Brooks said with how districts are funded currently, the new commissioner needs to focus on resolving inequities between districts.

“We’ve got some school districts that are really going to struggle in those areas of need,” he said.

Portrait of a Learner

KDE staff also heard feedback from principals on the statewide Portrait of a Learner and efforts to implement portraits in their districts.

Portrait of a Learner is an agreed-upon set of school- or district-level aspirations for what every learner should know and be able to do when they leave school.

Carina McDermott, principal at Pineville Independent School, said her district recently developed a Portrait of a Learner after having a Portrait of a Graduate system in place for a few years, and they are currently developing performance assessment systems and designing instruction for vibrant learning experiences.

“We created benchmarks or milestones for each grade level, and the teachers actually got to choose what they wanted to do and what their rubric would look like and what their performance task would be,” she said.

Cox said her school, which teaches preschool through 3rd grade, must be slow and deliberate with their Portrait of a Learner because of how young the students are, “but by the end of the year, you can see that the instruction is working.”

KDE recently published a new Portrait of a Learner guidance document to help districts with the development of competencies, performance outcomes and indicators.

As of Sept. 6:

  • 59 districts had finalized a set of competencies;
  • 30 districts are developing a set of competencies;
  • 18 districts are considering developing competencies;
  • Five districts are not considering developing competencies; and
  • 62 districts remain unknown as to their status.

Any districts that are interested in providing information about their implementation of Portrait of a Learner should use the Kentucky Districts with Graduate Skills/Competencies Google Form.

In other business:

  • Brian Eerenberg, principal at Ponderosa Elementary (Boyd County), volunteered to take over as chairperson of the Commissioner’s Principals Advisory Council.

The next Commissioner’s Principals Advisory Council is Dec. 14.