Monday, November 28, 2016

KSB students inspire others

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure to attend a book premier party, but this was no ordinary launch event. It was the kickoff for the book, We Can Hear You Just Fine: Clarifications from the Kentucky School for the Blind, authored by several current and former students of our own state school for the blind and visually impaired. 

As I have said many times before, I am thankful for the opportunity to be the superintendent of the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) as well as the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD). I am particularly proud of the KSB students who had the courage and tenacity to share their stories.

The Louisville Story Program (LSP) played a large role in the production of this book. The program’s focus is to aid in the telling of stories for those who may have difficulty in sharing their own stories. From the LSP website, “The Louisville Story Program strengthens community by amplifying unheard voices and untold stories. We partner closely with overlooked Louisville residents by providing extensive writing and oral history workshops and intensive editorial support, culminating in professionally-designed documentary books, exhibits, and radio programs in which our authors tell the stories of their lives and communities in their own words.” The Louisville Story Program has done just that for our KSB students. 

At the launch event, we heard from LSP Director Darcy Thompson, and LSP Deputy Director Joe Manning. I would like to extend my personal thank you to these gentlemen and others who worked on this project. Additionally, we heard from the authors themselves. They read from the book to more than 200 in attendance, using different techniques from braille to electronic readers. The authors were incredible, and the support from the community was impressive, to say the least. 

Through the partnership with the Louisville Writing Program, authors Matthew Caudill, Haley Hall, Shane Lowe, Madelyn Loyd, Selena Tirey, Kianna Waller, and Cherish Willis poured themselves into writing their stories to inform us of their perspectives and to help those of us who are sighted to understand their world. I am not sure they set out to do more than that, but they did. Their stories, their passion and their commitment, inspire us to move beyond our own perceived limitations. They inspire us to be more, to realize that every student deserves an opportunity, and too really believe that every student can do great things if given the opportunity. 

I am told periodically that we should not penalize schools because special needs students may “bring down the test scores.” I say, who are we to deprive anyone of the opportunity to shine? Who are we, as adults/educators to decide who deserves opportunities? We cannot begin to make the changes we need to make in education until we realize that our job is to create the environment that allows each student to pursue his or her passion. It may be hard for everyone to understand, but all of our students possess abilities that inspire us – if we just provide the opportunity.  

I cannot tell you how proud I am to be the superintendent of KSB and KSD – not just because of their dedicated faculty and staff, but because these students keep me grounded and inspire me to be my best. Thank you Matthew, Haley, Shane, Madelyn, Selena, Kianna, and Cherish. Thank you for sharing the best of who you are to inspire us and awaken us to a future of possibilities.  

For information on We Can Hear You Just Fine: Clarifications from the Kentucky School for the Blind, please visit

Monday, November 21, 2016

Taking time to give thanks

Thanksgiving week is a time for us to pause and give thanks for the past year. I encourage all of my readers to take time and either verbally or in writing share the things you are thankful for.

I have a lot to be thankful for. First, and always first, is my family. I am a proud husband and father.  I have an incredible wife who has been with me through every major life change and in many ways has been responsible for my biggest achievements. I have thought many times that I would not be where I am today, both literally and figuratively, if she had not been there to encourage me and challenge me to think bigger. I am thankful for two children that love their family and friends, care about others and want to pursue bright futures. I am additionally thankful for the friends who have embraced my daughter in the past year. Moving as a junior in high school is tough, but she found great friends that treat her as if she grew up with them.

I am thankful for the people of Kentucky. Time and again, the people here show a great love for the state, each other and a commitment for improving the lives of our children. I have never felt more at home than here. In fact, Kentucky has been so good to my family, we are hopeful my daughter will actually attend college in the state. Trust me, this is a big deal as she had no desire to be in-state in any of our previous states.

Finally, I am thankful for the opportunity I have been given to be the Commissioner of Education for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I am thankful for our Kentucky Board of Education, whose members work tirelessly on our student’s behalf. I am thankful for our students, our teachers, our administrators and all of our shareholders in education. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with and for our Kentucky School for the Blind (that just published a wonderful book I will write about next week) and our Kentucky School for the Deaf. And, I am thankful to work with an incredibly talented staff at the Kentucky Department of Education, that is dedicated to supporting our districts in educating all the children of our state.

As a Commonwealth, we are not satisfied with where we are, but we also acknowledge the work so far. No matter who I come across, there is a real commitment to improving education – not just for the sake of improving it, but in an effort to make it better for our students. We all may not agree all of the time, but we all seem to realize that our focus must be on Our Students, Our Commonwealth. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 7, 2016

An important week ahead

We have a big week ahead of us and I hope you are all preparing. There are decisions to be made, strategies to be set into motion and completed, and transitions to be planned. Yes, this week we celebrate Veterans Day.

You probably thought I was going to spend my blog discussing the election. Well, I figure there are plenty of other people already doing that, and I actually do all I can to stay out of the politics and simply focus on education and our students. Of course, the election will have a big impact on our lives both nationally and locally. The only thing I will say about Election Day is to remind you of how important it is to exercise your right to vote, and to thoroughly consider your vote for local school board members. Those races are not about party or politics, they are about who will make good decisions and policies for children.

Veterans Day is a big day this week – one of the most important holidays on the calendar, in my opinion. It is so much more than a day off work for some. It is a day to remember and reflect on how much we owe to our military members AND their families for the sacrifices that they have made for our country and our freedom.

Who does not love the videos on Facebook or the news that show a soldier’s homecoming? We love it because they are home safely, but I guarantee we do not love it nearly as much as their family, especially the children. As we observe Veterans Day this week, let us not forget that our veteran’s sacrifice is not theirs alone. It is their entire family that makes a sacrifice of time with their loved one and sometimes the ultimate sacrifice of their loved one’s life, which impacts that family forever.

I am pleased that for the past decade, all of our Kentucky public schools have devoted at least one class period to the observance of Veterans Day per KRS 158.075. I believe it is important that our students understand why we appreciate and honor our veterans – especially the young ones who may not understand why mom or dad must leave for long periods of time. They need to understand and see that we all appreciate what they are doing for our country. They need to see that while they are sacrificing time with that parent, they are doing so for a most noble cause.

I would like to express my personal heartfelt thank you to our veterans. We owe you more than we give you credit for and more than we can adequately express in just one day. The election we are having this week is because of you and your sacrifices. You have allowed us to disagree, to voice our opinion and to cast a vote of our own free will. Thank you for providing us with our freedom and without asking for anything in return. I hope you all know how much I appreciate you. And I hope that we will all take time to say thank you this Friday.

Yes, this is a big week not only because we are electing new leaders, but because we celebrate the special men and women who have given us that right and so much more.