Education

At the end of Angela Kohtala's leadership skills course, her high school students have to plan and carry out a community service project. Maybe it's fixing up their school courtyard, or tutoring younger students in an afterschool program.

Afterwards, they create a PowerPoint with pictures of the project. This isn't just a nice way to develop presentation skills — it's mandatory to prove that they really weeded that garden or sat with those kids in the first place.

You see, Kohtala's students are spread across the state of Florida, while she herself lives in Maine.

Ted Eytan/taedc / Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A Madisonville North Hopkins County High School transgender student is working on a petition to allow him to use the bathroom he chooses instead of the handicap one made available for those who identify as transgender.

School officials haven’t yet received the petition, but say they’ll seek legal guidance although they aren’t aware of any laws regulating bathroom use.

Meanwhile State Senator C.B. Embry filed a bill this month requiring students use the restroom corresponding to their anatomical gender.

Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman says the bill comes after a Louisville high school allowed a transgender girl to use the women’s restroom and locker room, which he says is the best option.

“When we force a trans student to use a private restroom, a handicap facility, what that does is it says you are so different that we don’t know how to accommodate you other than to isolate you and force you to use this restroom that’s all yours,” Hartman said.

Embry filed the bill after the Kentucky Family Foundation approached him with a draft of it.

In the education world, you see this phrase all the time: "free and reduced-price lunch." What's the percentage at a given school? In a given district or state?

It's not necessarily out of concern about who's getting fed. Instead, it's most often used to talk about concentrations of poverty and how that affects learning.

The phrase refers to students enrolled in the National School Lunch Program — an easily available data point for any school and any district.

All of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts have approved policies to increase the dropout age from 16 to 18. 

The General Assembly passed a law in 2013 giving school districts the option of raising the dropout age. Once 55 percent of districts did so, it would trigger a four-year deadline for everyone else to raise the age.  Democratic Governor Steve Beshear said districts beat that deadline by one year.

"What we've done is send a message," said Beshear in a news conference Thursday.  "We've sent a message to the kids, their parents, and communities that education matters and that we care about these children."

All but seven public school districts will have the new policy in place this fall.  It will take effect for the rest in the 2017-18 school year. 

The Kentucky Department of Education provided each district with a $10,000 grant to help implement the higher dropout age.

Kentucky’s teacher pension policies are receiving near-failing grades in a new report.

The National Council of Teacher Quality gives the pension plan a D-, and points out that 48-percent of the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System consists of unfunded liabilities.

Council Vice President Sandi Jacobs says the vast majority of taxpayer funds going into the system isn’t being invested in the future retirement of current employees.

“Only 23 cents on the dollar—less than the national average—is going towards the cost of the system. About 77 cents are going toward the debt.”

KTRS currently has over $13 billion in unfunded liabilities. The state budget passed by lawmakers last year provided about half the money needed to bring KTRS into the black.

Jacobs says her group also considers the system’s five-year vesting period a negative feature.

“If you leave before five years you’re not eligible for future benefits. That’s a long time to wait.”

You can see the NCTQ’s report card on Kentucky’s teacher pension policy here.

WKU

WKU President Gary Ransdell believes a White House plan to make community college free has little chance of becoming reality.

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Obama announced a plan to offer two years of tuition-free community college to students who maintained certain academic standards.

The effort would cost about $60 billion over ten years, with the federal government picking up three-quarters of the cost, and states paying for the rest.

Speaking to WKU Public Radio during a break in Friday's Board of Regents meeting, Ransdell said that’s an unsustainable model. 

“There’s no way I can be advocate for Kentucky putting money into that and continuing to cut higher education for the public universities."

Ransdell said he understands that the technical and associate’s degrees that many community college graduates earn help drive the manufacturing sector. 

“But the reality is, it’s bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees that drive the economy, and those are the people who are the decision-makers with the intellectual skills that go into driving the economy.”

As the new — and paid — president emeritus of the Kentucky Community & Technical College System, Michael McCall will attend meetings, give advice, provide executive coaching, help hire new executives and help run a systemwide leadership academy now bearing his name.

The number of Kentucky children who are prepared for kindergarten is nearly unchanged over last year—half of kids entering school still don’t have the basic skills that the state deems as necessary to be “kindergarten-ready.”

The Kentucky Department of Education’s annual kindergarten readiness results released Wednesday show that 50 percent of children are prepared for a public education, a 1 percent increase from last year.

In Jefferson County Public Schools, 51.9 percent of children were ready for kindergarten this school year.

Last year, 52.3 percent of Jefferson County Public Schools’ kindergartners were ready—a higher rate than the state average, which was 49 percent. While that rate is still slightly higher than the state average, it’s a slight drop for JCPS.

The University of Louisville’s music school and athletics department will share a $12.6 million gift from retired pilot and investor Max Baumgardner of Louisville.

The $6.3 million donation to the School of Music is the largest planned gift in its 82-year history, the university said Tuesday in a news release.

The money will be used to create the Max Baumgardner Endowed Fund for Excellence in Jazz Studies.

Michael Tracy, head of U of L’s jazz program, said the funds will support faculty positions, scholarships and other programs, including studies abroad.

Bowling Green City Schools

The superintendent of Bowling Green Independent Schools has announced plans to retire. 

Joe Tinius has worked in the city school system since 1977 in a number of roles, including teacher, coach, and principal.  He became superintendent in 2005. 

In a letter submitted to the Board of Education, Tinius said after 37 years in education, he had reached the point in his life where he wanted to spend more time with his wife, children, and grandchild. 

He tells WKU Public Radio that while technology and education reforms have had major impacts on Kentucky’s classrooms, a teacher’s ability to connect with students remains vital.

“It is still, at the end of the day, that personal relationship that teachers develop with students that ultimately determines how much of an impact and effective the learning process is.”

Tinius says one of the biggest changes he’s seen over the years is the increasing diversity of the area’s student population, with major growth seen in the number of students who speak English as a second language. Tinius said school administrators have to be willing to connect with students and parents from international communities.

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