Thursday, October 29, 2015

A tough, yet passionate bunch; and thoughts about testing

Week two is complete and it was another exhilarating week. I am still learning about the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), our various initiatives and listening to our shareholders.

Over the past week, I had an opportunity to meet many district superintendents. At the Kentucky Education Development Corporation (KEDC) Board Meeting, I met more than 60 superintendents, provided an introduction and listened to the biggest issues facing them today. In addition, I was able to share in the victories as KEDC gave banners to celebrate their districts’ and schools’ achievements from the past school year. On Wednesday, I met with 16 members of my Superintendents Advisory Committee. Also, I had the chance to meet briefly with some new superintendents as they were undergoing training.

Superintendents are a tough bunch, but they should be. They have the responsibility for every child in their district. They also are not a shy bunch. During these meetings, I heard a lot of concerns and challenges that superintendents are facing every day and their priorities as we move into our biennial budget legislative session. I appreciate that input.

Later, when I was talking with a completely different group of people, I mentioned these three meetings. The people I was meeting with asked if superintendents gave me a tough time. My answer was simple, ‘No, they are just taking care of their teachers and kids. Isn’t that what we should all be doing?’ 

You see, when in meetings with people passionate about their work, sometimes you hear things that are not very comfortable or that you do not want to hear. And if those people have lost sight of the end goals because they have their own agendas, it makes for a painful meeting. But that was not the case with these superintendents. They love their students and their educators – and that leads to them loving a very tough job. So, it is my privilege to work alongside superintendents who work hard to make sure their district will improve the lives of their charges. In taking the position as commissioner, I had hoped that would be the case, and now after spending time with them over the last week, I am sure of it. I am excited about spending time with more superintendents next week at the Green River Regional Education Cooperative.

As a final note for this week, I feel the need to address the issues raised last weekend at the federal level regarding testing time. There is no doubt our students participate in many tests during an average school year. From a philosophical standpoint, I believe we must focus on instruction first, then use assessments to aid the teacher in making the instructional changes necessary to support their students. Quality, focused instruction that engages the students’ ability to think, apply and build their knowledge in a way that supports understanding of concepts is paramount to a student’s ability to be college-, career-, and life-ready.

As with all of our programs in the coming weeks and months, we will be discussing the state assessment system and how we can best support our districts and teachers. I believe this is something we should all do. Simply testing students does not tell us anything if we are not confident that any assessment administered is aligned to the standards of a particular grade or subject area. So, as we move forward, I hope we will all evaluate our assessment systems to ensure that teachers are allowed to be the innovators they were born to be and work to cut down on testing that does not give us the information we need to support a child’s learning. We must not forget, that is why we are here. 

As always, I am honored to be your Commissioner.

Stephen Pruitt

Friday, October 23, 2015

Kentucky’s commitment to education unsurpassed

My first week as commissioner has been incredible. In many ways it is what I expected, learning something new at every turn, meeting new people and drinking from the proverbial fire hose. However, I had the opportunity to participate in two events this week that confirmed for me that, as Kentucky’s commissioner of education, I have the second coolest job in the world. 

At the first event, we celebrated what I consider to be the coolest job in the world – classroom teacher – during the 2016 Kentucky Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony. For me, having the opportunity to honor and get to know the Ashland Teacher Achievement Award winners was a treat beyond compare. These extraordinary teachers are smart, funny, innovative and dedicated professionals who are making students’ lives better. While teachers love their content, the great ones teach because they love their students. The passion for their students as well as their craft that these teachers shared makes me proud to be an educator and a teacher. 

On this day, 24 teachers had the chance to shine their light as a beacon of hope and leadership to their 41,500 colleagues across the state. I am grateful for that light and for the key role that teachers play in our children’s lives. So, congratulations to all of our Ashland Teacher Achievement Award winners. Special congratulations to Elementary Teacher of the Year, Joshua DeWar; Middle School Teacher of the Year, Karen Mallonee; and our High School and Overall Teacher of the Year, Ashley Lamb-Sinclair.  

The second event I attended was called Early Childhood – A Wise Investment in Kentucky’s Future, an event sponsored by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. Governor Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear, four former governors, members of the Kentucky General Assembly and many shareholders from the business and political world attended. The meeting focused on helping everyone gain an understanding of how a quality early childhood education translates into better prepared K-12 students and eventually a qualified workforce. You see, when we understand how the brain develops, we can better prepare our students and close achievement gaps by providing every student a quality learning experience before they even start kindergarten right on through high school graduation.

Attending these two events made me glad to be a Kentuckian. I have been asked by friends and colleagues, why Kentucky? The level of commitment to education shown in these two events are prime examples of why I wanted to continue my educational career here.  

First, the Teacher of the Year Awards were a big deal, held in the rotunda of the capital – not in some hotel with little fanfare. Governor Beshear, Secretary of Education Tom Zawacki, and members of the General Assembly were on hand to recognize these teachers and celebrate their accomplishment. None of these dignitaries had to do this, but they were all pleased to do so because they recognize the value of quality teachers to our students. 

The Prichard Committee event had five governors in attendance. This is unprecedented in other states. Governors Beshear, Fletcher, Patton, Carroll and Collins all gave up their time to attend, which speaks volumes about their commitment to education. 

Yet, this commitment to education extends beyond the state’s top elected office. Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Dave Adkisson, Toyota Motor Manufacturing President Wil James, and Northern Kentucky University President Emeritus Jim Votruba also shared their commitment to education in their remarks. Prichard Executive Director Brigitte Blom Ramsey and staff did a great job of putting this event together. Clearly the opportunity for Kentucky children to get a high quality education from the beginning is paramount to all who attended.  

So, as I conclude my first week, I am honored to be your commissioner of education and excited to be a Kentuckian. Since being here, I have shared with many that I begin each day with the thought, “Today is an excellent day to make a difference.” With Kentucky’s commitment to high quality education for all students, I believe we can and we will make that difference for our kids.