Monday, May 16, 2016

The meaning behind the symbol

Last week, we unveiled the new logo for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) via a news release. I am sure that some of you found this to be expected with new leadership, and while somewhat accurate, I would like to explain the logo a bit more in this blog.  

Branding of any product is important. It shows a recognition of the product or organization and it helps the user identify the brand. For me, however, it is more than that. Perhaps I have read too many Dan Brown books, but I believe that a logo, or symbol of the agency in this case, should carry with it the symbolism of the vision and work of the agency. As such, there are subtle, but significant, symbols within the new KDE logo itself.

Equity, Achievement, Integrity
As I have said before, equity, achievement and integrity are the guiding principles of our work together for the betterment of our students. 

The silhouettes of the three students at the heart of the new logo symbolizes that we want equity for all of our students. The silhouettes are of actual Kentucky students and are meant to represent students of different ages, family incomes, zip codes and abilities. They were added to the logo to show the work of our agency is about all students. The fact that they are at the center of the state, symbolizes that students are at the center of all of our work and decisions.

The students are surrounded by an outline of our beautiful Commonwealth shown in gold. Gold is the color of achievement and we expect every child to have opportunity for achievement. Additionally, as a state, I expect us to be the “gold standard” for the rest of the country. I have been so touched by the commitment of Kentuckians to our students that the line from the Jesse Stuart poem rings true, “If these United States can be called a body, then Kentucky can be called its heart.” In this case, a heart of gold. 

Finally, the ray of light that comes from the upper right corner has a dual symbolism. In this context, it means we will shine a light on our work with our students and our schools to ensure honesty and integrity for every child.  

Our Children, Our Commonwealth
By now, no doubt you have heard me refer to Our Children, Our Commonwealth. This is our motto because I believe we have to focus on working together for the betterment of our students. The circle that surrounds the logo is not simply a circle. While it represents something official and governmental, for me it is the symbol of unity. To ensure unity, we have to move past a compliance model of education to a model of shared responsibility. Our Children means that we all take responsibility for all children; not just the ones in a single classroom, building, district, or even home. Rather, we recognize that while it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a Commonwealth to educate one. If we embrace this idea of Our Children, Our Commonwealth will benefit. Our children will graduate ready to contribute to their communities and build a happy life for themselves. 

Hope for a Brighter Future
I mentioned the ray of light earlier and one of its two meanings. While it is representative of integrity, this meaning is deeper and equally important. We can no longer set goals only for students to graduate high school. Of course we will still work toward supporting students to graduation, but we cannot see this as the end.  Some would argue this may be the end of our responsibility, but is it really? As long as we set our sights only on graduation, we lose sight of the bigger picture. This ray of light is symbolic of hope, hope for a better life ahead. The graduating student holds his or her diploma aloft with pride as they achieve a meaningful milestone. But they lift their eyes to the future with graduation to a future that holds promise and hope for a happy and fulfilling life. This is what school is about, not just the classrooms and the tests. School is about opportunity, for every student to do whatever he or she chooses with his or her life – be it university, college, career or the military – students must have an education that prepares them for the future that includes their interests.

The new Kentucky Department of Education logo marks not only a new brand for the department, but also a new day in Kentucky education. I hope it is a symbol for a renewed focus on all of our students – For Our Children, Our Commonwealth.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Teachers: Kentucky’s irreplaceable asset

As many of you have heard me say, the second best professional decision I ever made was coming to Kentucky.  The first was listening to my calling to become an educator.  I am honored to consider myself among the ranks of the teaching profession.  

Education is the greatest and most noble profession.  It is the only profession that is at the root of all others.  I think it is time we remember that and remember that our teachers are our most precious resource in ensuring a better life for the students of Kentucky.  

Last week, during Teacher Appreciation Week, I encouraged our state to #ThankaKYTeacher by posting on Twitter their thoughts about that special teacher in their life.  Based on those posts, this week I believe the people of Kentucky have written a better blog collectively than I can alone so, I would like to share some of their tweets with you.  

Erin Waggoner‏@erinwaggoner
Thx Mrs. Gillum for making me (heart) school so much I cried on the LAST day, not the 1st. #ThankATeacher #thankakyteacher 

Charlotte Goddard‏@emmynickysmama2
Jennifer Willis, thank you for believing in Emily and empowering her! You have been a strong female role model! #GCMS #thankaKYteacher

Michelle Oakley‏@OakleyMichelleM
Thank you, Mrs. Sheila Todd, my 5th grade teacher at Nancy Elementary for instilling my passion for becoming a teacher! #thankakyteacher

Courtney DeRossett‏@CLDeRossett
Thank you Linda Dale & Nancy Cade for being the most inspiring teachers! Hard work & high expectations, forever grateful! #ThankAKYTeacher

I'm a better teacher bc of @adamlspinks who always challenges me to reflect and improve upon what I do in my classroom. #thankaKYteacher

Jo Allison Slone‏@joallison_slone
HTA to Carolyn Gibson. My Knott Co Centr. Art tchr. 1990-1994 You taught me how to love students. Now kick cancer's butt! #ThankaKYteacher

McCreary Central HS‏@McCrearyCentral
A special Thank You to Mrs. Opal Heth - she made the difference in 1972. The power of #thankaKyteacher @KyDeptofEd

I am so honored to be an educator and to be in a state that values the education of its students.  It is a vast understatement to say I appreciate our teachers – my gratitude and admiration goes far beyond appreciation.  I am humbled by the Kentucky teachers who touch the lives of their students every day. Most of all, I am proud of their work, of their impact on our students and their willingness to stand for our students in a job that becomes tougher each year and unfortunately more underappreciated.  

So, please join me in thanking a teacher.  We all have one or more that shaped us into who we are. Try to make time to drop them note, post something on social media, send some flowers, or even go by and say hello. And know that these efforts need not be confined to a certain day, week or month of the year. Anytime is the right time to thank a teacher for what they may have done to impact your life. I assure you, nothing means more to a teacher than a former student taking just a few moments to say thank you. 

Teachers are an irreplaceable asset, please let them know it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

An Education Run for the Roses

It’s Derby Week – my first as a Kentuckian. I look forward to experiencing the Derby and all its festivities as a resident of the Commonwealth. I have learned, and been told by many, that the most exciting two minutes in sports takes an entire month to celebrate, and I am trying to experience it all.
Last week, I finished my own race of sorts – 11 Education Town Halls meetings across Kentucky  in six weeks. Based on the feedback I received and the turnout for each meeting, I plan to make this my own annual event, but next year will spread it out over a longer period of time.

To me, what we have ahead of us is every bit as exciting as the Run for the Roses. In order to cross the finish line to in a way befitting our children, we will have to work together. It may be a bit cheesy, but as I thought about the task ahead of us, the song, The Run for the Roses kept playing in my head.

“It’s a run for the roses, as fast as you can.”

The opportunity to develop a new accountability system is our education run for the roses. And, we have much to do in a very short period of time. Now we are taking the results from the town halls, determining themes and identifying key features of the law to which we must adhere. We are in the process of identifying our steering committee and our working committees to devise the draft system. We will post the draft online in November and start regulatory process in January. As fast and furious as this is, I am confident it will end up with a system that sets the gold standard in education across the country.

“Your fate is delivered, your moment’s at hand.”

Kentucky has seen incredible growth over the past 25 years, and the past 6 in particular.  But, our moment is at hand as we take this next step into ensuring our children have the best education possible.  This is our moment, this is our time.  For the first time, we have the chance to develop a system based on our views, Kentucky’s views.

“It’s a chance of a lifetime, in a lifetime of chance.”

Building a new accountability system is the chance of a lifetime. I am sure it will be the biggest opportunity during my career. Everyone must realize that this opportunity, if done well, will be a game changer for our children. If not, our children may well get a lifetime of chance, hoping to get a quality education that ensures equity, achievement, and integrity; but there will be no guarantee.

“It’s high time you joined in the dance.”

It IS high time we all joined in this dance. No longer can accountability be considered compliance or about a single school or district. If we are to make a difference in the Commonwealth, it is high time we realize that we must take shared responsibility for our children. I have said several times during the town halls, “It take a village to raise a child, but a Commonwealth to educate one.” I do not say that because it sounds good or is a good tweet, I say it because I believe it. We cannot push education forward without all shareholders making students the center of the system rather than the adults.

I hope you will all join us for this race. The town halls have been nothing short of amazing with the number and diversity of people who gave of their time to come share with me what they value in education. Their passion, their commitment and their desire to move us forward was inspiring. We are in the second turn with three quarters of the race left, so hang on and stay focused on students. This is going to be a great ride.

And, as a final note, this is Teacher Appreciation Week. This is a special week and a special month as it celebrates what I call, “the greatest and most honorable profession, teacher.” I will spend my full blog next week on teaching, but I can tell you the greatest professional decision I ever made was to be a teacher. In the meantime, share your thoughts about the teachers who made a mark on your life – #thankakyteacher. Teaching is the root of all other careers and I am proud to be among the ranks of the profession.