Education

The Kentucky Department of Education has released the names of the five candidates under consideration for commissioner. The list includes one candidate from Kentucky. 

  • Buddy Berry, superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools in Eminence, Kentucky.
  • Kathleen Airhart, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer for the Tennessee Department of Education 
  • Christopher Koch, interim president of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation
  • Lloyd Martin, chief executive officer for Universal School Solutions, an education consultancy firm
  • Stephen Pruitt, senior vice president at Achieve, Inc., an independent, nonprofit education reform organization. 

The Kentucky Board of Education will meet Friday and Saturday in Lexington to conduct second interviews with each of the five candidates.

The new commissioner will replace current Commissioner Terry Holliday, who is retiring next week.

The board has selected Associate Commissioner and General Counsel Kevin Brown to serve as interim commissioner starting Sept. 1 until a new commissioner can begin.

Innovation is Key at New Owensboro High School

Aug 26, 2015
Rhonda J. Miller

Students are changing classes at the new regional high school, Owensboro Innovation Academy. There’s a lot of “change” and a lot of “new” at this school. 

First of all, it’s not in a typical high school building. It’s in the Owensboro Centre for Business and Research.

The principal, Beth Benjamin, says she’s called the “director.”  And Benjamin says teachers aren’t called teachers.

“They’re called facilitators. And that is because we want students to take ownership of their own learning. So they kind of determine what they need to know and then the teachers are there to facilitate that learning and then to provide any direct instruction that’s needed. But it’s definitely a team effort.”

Superintendent of Owensboro schools Nick Brake says the facilitator role encourages respect for students.

“It’s not so much the sage on the stage where everybody bows to the teacher. It really allows more of an adult-to-adult, peer-to-peer type of relationship and the students have to respect that, in the same way they would respect any other adult relationship.”

Flickr/Creative Commons/BES Photos

Foiled in state court, a Jefferson County Public Schools teacher filed a federal court suit Monday claiming the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System illegally raised teachers’ share of pension contributions to shore up a retirement plan that is only half-funded.

Randolph “Randy” Wieck, a history teacher at DuPont Manual High School, launched the legal battle last November by filing suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court. The case was dismissed with a recommendation that it be refiled in Franklin County, he said.

Instead, Wieck filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Louisville. As before, Wieck is asking that the roughly 141,000 teachers and school system retirees in Kentucky be allowed to participate in the suit. He is joined in the suit by Manual English teacher Betsey Bell and retired Manual librarian and English teacher Jane Norman.

Kentucky’s active and retired teachers are apprehensive about the solvency of their state-funded retirement. As of its last audited annual financial report on June 30, 2014, KTRS was only 53.6 percent funded with $16.2 billion in assets and $30.2 billion in obligations. A bill calling for the sale of $3.3 billion in bonds, which would have raised the KTRS funding level to 66 percent, failed in the 2015 legislative session.

Kentucky lags behind national averages for ACT college-readiness benchmarks in core subjects, with the biggest deficit in math.

The best performance among Kentucky's 2015 high school graduates was in English, with 60 percent of students meeting the ACT college-readiness benchmark. The national average was 64 percent, according to data released Wednesday by the organization that administers the exam.

The report says Kentucky's lowest scores were in math and science. Thirty-two percent of Kentucky test-takers achieved the college-readiness measurement both in math and science. National averages were 42 percent in math and 38 percent in science.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who is retiring, says the low math score should be a motivator for action. Holliday says it's time the state puts together a math task force and looks at teacher preparation.

Flickr/Creative Commons/my_southborough

Kentucky inmates earned dramatically fewer GED diplomas since the test switched in January 2014 from a paper-based test to a more rigorous version taken on a computer, according to the state Department of Corrections.

In the 2013 fiscal year — the last full year the previous test was given — Kentucky prison and jail inmates earned 1,135 GED diplomas. In the 2015 fiscal year ending in June, 126 GED diplomas were awarded to Kentucky inmates.

The 89 percent decline means that fewer inmates have been awarded “educational good time,” which reduces prison sentences by 90 days for each inmate who earns a diploma.

The department declined a request for an interview. But in an email response to questions posed by Kentucky Public Radio, the department said that it had responded to recent changes to the test “with frustration.”

Clinton Lewis-WKU

WKU President Gary Ransdell says the university is at a crossroads in three areas: enrollment, state funding, and employee compensation. 

While noting many of the university’s achievements, Ransdell also outlined the school’s challenges to faculty and staff in his opening convocation Friday morning. 

Faced with an enrollment decline in the last couple of years, WKU is focusing more on recruitment and retention.  Dr. Ransdell said some of the efforts are beginning to pay off.

"As of this week, our first-time incoming student numbers are up slightly," Ransdell noted.  "Our part-time undergraduate numbers have stabilized, but our part-time graduate numbers are still tracking downward.  Our biggest challenge, however, is a 23 percent drop in continuing full-time freshmen."

Dr. Ransdell also addressed the continuing challenge of less state funding. 

"The last year Kentucky increased base funding for higher education was 2006," added Ransdell.  "By the time the 2016 budget is considered next spring, we will have suffered through a lost decade of state support for higher education."

President Ransdell said he will ask the 2016 Kentucky General Assembly to restore cuts to higher education and change the way funds are allocated to a performance-based model.  He said given the school’s growth and degree productivity, WKU would fare better in the next state budget.  He added that the increased funding would help pay for faculty\staff salary increases, which Ransdell called a top priority for next year.

The fall semester at WKU begins Monday. 

Kentucky LRC

The appointment of Kentucky’s top education official would be subject to state Senate confirmation under a bill pre-filed last week in the General Assembly.

State Rep. Kenny Imes, a Murray Republican, said he’s seeking to add accountability to the state’s education department.

“I think the public should have the right to have a voice in who is running our education system in Kentucky, along with their elected representatives,” he said. “The state by constitution is charged with providing the public education, and as such I just don’t think it ought to be totally run by KEA or any specific group.”

A spokesman for the Kentucky Education Association did not return an email request for comment on Monday.

The Kentucky education commissioner is appointed by the state Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor. Under current law, the Senate confirms the governor’s appointments to the education board, according to information provided by the Legislative Research Commission.

Last weekend, the state Board of Education interviewed a dozen candidates for the education commissioner post. The person chosen will replace the retiring Terry Holliday, the state education commissioner since 2009.

WKU

WKU President Gary Ransdell informed faculty and staff Tuesday afternoon that Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Gordon Emslie is stepping down from his administrative roles and returning to teaching.

An email sent by President Ransdell said Emslie will take a sabbatical and teach in the WKU Physics and Astronomy department beginning in January.

Dr. David Lee will take over as Provost and VP of Academic Affairs Monday. Lee, currently the Dean of the Potter College of Arts and Letters, will serve a two-year appointment, with a search for a successor beginning next summer.

Dr. Emslie has served five years as Provost and VP of Academic Affairs.

“I support Gordon’s decision and offer my sincere appreciation to him for his loyal and dedicated service,” said WKU President Gary A. Ransdell.  “I have appreciated his sound financial acumen, tenacious support of the faculty and his teamwork with our colleagues on the Administrative Council."

Warrick County Schools Start Year with 48 New Teachers

Aug 10, 2015

Warrick County, Indiana schools filled 48 teaching positions this year. The district about 30 miles northwest of Owensboro, Kentucky is now fully staffed for the first day of school on Aug. 12.  

Warrick County Schools Superintendent Brad Schneider said 19 of the 48 were resignations, with some teachers likely leaving because of changes in public education, such as the emphasis on high-stakes testing.

“In my opinion, that pendulum has swung way too far and those test scores now seem to be dictating everything we do," said Schnieder. "As educators we know that’s not what’s best for kids. They also need to know problem solving skills. They need to know how to work with others, resolve problems, think outside the box, be creative.” 

Schneider said one concern in Indiana is the elimination of a salary scale, which guaranteed incremental raises for teachers.

Kentucky Department of Education

The Kentucky Board of Education has chosen Kevin C. Brown as interim commissioner while its search continues for a successor to Commissioner Terry Holliday.

The board is meeting in Frankfort for its annual retreat and August meeting. The board reviewed applicants for the commissioner's post in closed session Wednesday.

Holliday is retiring Aug. 31.

The Education Department said in a news release that the board wants the search firm that's assisting with the search to seek additional information on 15 applicants, representing both in-state and out-of-state candidates.

The first round of interviews is Aug. 14 and 15 in Louisville.

Brown is an associate commissioner and department general counsel. He will serve starting Sept. 1 with a salary equivalent to $150,000 per year until a new commissioner is in place.

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