Friday, April 26, 2013

Valuing superintendent input

This week, we had a very lively Superintendent Advisory Council meeting. I really value input from superintendents since they are the primary point of contact between the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and implementation of Senate Bill 1 (2009) and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requirements.

During the meeting this week, we spent most of our time discussing the next-generation superintendent standards being developed by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA). Also, we discussed the expectations for annual summative documentation of local board evaluation of the superintendent.

The Superintendent Advisory Council serves in an advisory role and, during the meeting, the group did offer several recommendations for implementation of new superintendent standards and evaluation procedures. I will go over these recommendations on Monday, April 29, during my monthly superintendent webinar.

There has been a significant amount of confusion and misinformation about the expectations for superintendent evaluation procedures. It is my intent to clarify the procedures in a letter to board chairs and superintendents in late May or June.

Our Kentucky superintendents do a terrific job in spite of increasing budget difficulties. It is my hope that we will be able to align the teacher, principal and superintendent evaluation procedures to drive a model of professional learning and professional growth. Working together, I know we can do this in Kentucky.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Superintendent Challenges

This week I met with the executive board of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS) and Executive Director Wilson Sears. The purpose of the meeting was to hear about the frustration that superintendents are feeling about recent actions and the negative impact this has had on the morale of superintendents across Kentucky.

I can hardly criticize our superintendents for their concerns. Over the last few years, we have seen significant reductions in funding for schools.  As a superintendent, it is extremely difficult to propose a budget to a school board that reduces staff and services to students.

The continued decline of state funds for education and the impending impact of federal sequestration are very real issues. Coupled with declining resources and increased demands from Senate Bill 1 (2009) and the No Child Left Behind waiver, you have conditions that most certainly will impact morale.

Another issue that has certainly impacted superintendents has been the actions of a few bad actors. Most of our Kentucky superintendents are doing a terrific job for the students in their communities, in spite of budget reductions and many challenges of declining enrollments and increasing numbers of children in poverty. However, recent audits in districts like Mason, Breathitt and Dayton Independent have cast a cloud over superintendents and school boards in Kentucky.

These issues are not isolated to superintendents. All of our educators are beginning to feel very frustrated with the increasing gap between expectations and resources.  This week in The New York Times, I read an interesting editorial, The Kids Are (Not) All Right, by Charles Blow that further describes the challenges our educators are facing.

As commissioner, I made a commitment to our superintendents to provide many more opportunities for them to speak to me directly about their concerns and challenges. Also, I made a commitment to find ways to highlight the many positive things that are happening in our schools under the leadership of many dedicated leaders.

I have to applaud our educators in Kentucky. Even with all of the challenges they are facing and the frequent criticism they receive from many sources, I always find they are dedicated to children and helping all children achieve college- and career-readiness.

Certainly, times are tough but I know we have many leaders at all levels that will rise to the challenge. My job as commissioner is to be a constant advocate for what they need to do their job and to also be a constant advocate for the improvements that need to be made to help more children be successful. Balancing these two sometimes competing interests is a challenge. Some days I get it right and many days I fail but my resolve is to work for more balance.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Raising the Dropout Age

At the Kentucky Board of Education meeting this week, the board adopted a resolution encouraging local boards to approve policies that raise the dropout age from 16 to 18 starting in the 2015-16 school year. This resolution was in support of SB 97 that passed in the recent legislative session. As board member Brigitte Ramsey stated, along with SB 97 this resolution is a signal to all children in Kentucky that we are not giving up on you and we believe you can be successful.

There are many that do not believe raising the dropout age will have an impact on increasing graduation rates and raising the percentage of students who graduate with college/career ready skills. It is now our responsibility as educators, parents, community members, and state leaders to prove them wrong.

As I have said many times during the debate over raising the dropout age, simply raising the age will not be enough. We must have clear plans, actions, measures, and interventions to help all students reach college/career readiness and graduation. As I have visited every school district in Kentucky, I have seen many excellent programs that provide the services to help all students graduate. Educators across Kentucky strongly support raising the dropout age, however, they also know we must have programs and services in place to help students.

In our budget at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), we have an annual line item of $570,000 for dropout prevention. I can think of no better use of those funds than to provide these dollars to local school districts to develop/modify plans to ensure more students graduate from high school prepared with college/career-ready skills. We are going to allocate these funds to school districts where the local board adopts a policy that raises the dropout age from 16 to 18 beginning in the 2015-16 school year. The funds may be used to develop a clear plan with the all stakeholders to provide the programs and services to ensure the policy actually increases graduation and college/career readiness rates. The grants will be for $10,000 per district; we hope that regions will work together to develop regional solutions. The math works out that we will only be able to award 57 districts in 2013-14 and hopefully continue the grants in 2014-15, however, this will be dependent on the state budget. We are also working to secure external grant funding to provide for up to 92 school districts in the 2013-14 school year, however, we have not secured funding at this time. 

KDE will be providing guidance on the grant process in the following weeks but local boards can start laying the groundwork now. However, they are reminded that SB 97 does not take effect until  June 25, so any policy passed before then may be challenged on its validity, due to the lack of statutory basis for the policy prior to the legislation’s effective date. A local board could have a first and second reading of a proposed policy prior to the effective date of the legislation, but final action and formal adoption of the policy by the board should not occur prior to the effective date of the legislation, “the first moment of Tuesday, June 25, 2013,” according to an opinion from the Attorney General.

I know that those who doubted the impact of raising the dropout age would be delighted to be proven wrong. If we prove them wrong, we will make a positive impact on our state’s economy, local economy, and individual economy. We will make a positive impact by lowering the cost of social services and incarceration rates. We will make a positive impact on state tax revenue. However, the most significant impact will be on the children that we serve. We will help provide hope to many young people who felt the future for them would not be positive.

Let’s get it done Kentucky!!!