750,000 Raving Fans

It was the inauguration of a new awards program for JCPS teachers and principals.

I noticed it was going to be different as I entered a banquet room at the KFC YUM! Center. Guests were greeted at the door by the event’s sponsor, Hilliard Lyons CEO Jim Allen, his wife Missy and daughter Rebecca. They remained at the door until all 200 attendees had arrived.

I watched educators enter amongst local dignitaries, there to honor the quiet work going on each day in public schools.

Allen and his firm created the Hilliard Lyons Excellence awards to recognize outstanding educators in the public school system. The May 30 event included a keynote by U of L President James Ramsey and supporting remarks by U.S. Representative John Yarmuth and Mayor Greg Fischer.

The personal touches at the dinner made the most impact on me. The greetings at the door, the formal setting overlooking the Ohio River and a beautiful spring evening, and the excitement of the conversations among those who work in public life in this city.

Mr. Allen read commendations of each recipient and personally presented the awards. The winning educators were from a variety of schools all over the county, and their stories of success were inspiring.

A few of the recipients and their stories:

Anna Byrd, Principal of Crums Lane Elementary School where her leadership has prompted significant progress in achievement. Her nominators said, “The students honestly believe she lives at the school…If Anna Byrd is not in a classroom reading a book, in the cafeteria opening milk cartons, in the library leading the morning newscast, or talking to parents, she is looking for a new way to facilitate learning for each student.”

A Professional Learning Community at Westport Middle SchoolJerusha Coleman, Jenny Napier, Melissa Shearon, Heather Weis, and Sarah Yost where they collaborate regularly to meet the needs of each student. Their principal says, “By becoming a support system for one another, this team has become an invaluable resource for all teachers and departments….reaching their full potential and making impactful contributions to the students and staff.”

Laura Keeling, teacher at Tully Elementary School where she brings in outside resources and opportunities for students. “You cannot walk into her class without instantly becoming motivated yourself. Between the learning community she has built with her students, her high expectations for learning and love of teaching you can see why coming to the learning lab is a favorite amongst our Tully Students,” said her colleagues.

The dignitaries at this event would not have known the names nor seen the faces of these educators without this recognition.  Allen, Hilliard Lyons and other sponsors put the spotlight on where the work happens – in schools – and on the excellent educators who are making the difference daily for students.

This was but one example of Mr. Allen’s high-profile impact as a supporter of JCPS.

Over the years I have been on the school board (almost seven) I have watched Mr. Allen’s steadfastness at public support in word and deed, and his increased prominence as a go-to in the business community with regard to JCPS.  He currently serves as Chairman of the Jefferson County Public Education Foundation, which raises funds and supports initiatives in the schools that drive progress.

You don’t get to be a business leader like Jim Allen by having low expectations, and I know he expects a lot of the public schools. But, he is set apart by leading from the positive, encouraging skeptics to take a second look, and in doing so, providing a vote of confidence in the schools.

Business First has focused on Allen and his work in the community, and profiled him in a recent issue. In that article, he said among the many civic causes in which he is involved, JCPS is the most rewarding.

He participated in a panel discussion at a downtown breakfast sponsored by Business First, with Superintendent Hargens and Seneca High School Principal Michelle Dillard. He said there, “The business community can be an advocate and play an important role in helping spread the message of the achievements that are happening in JCPS schools.” He explained that business leaders should work to understand the complexities of the system. The three panelists agreed that the best view of schools is from the inside and invited attendees to visit schools and get involved.

Fittingly, the Kentucky Board of Education presented the Joseph W. Kelly Award to Jim Allen at a recent meeting. The award is given to businesspeople “who offer outstanding leadership and service toward promoting school improvement and equitable educational opportunities for all Kentucky children.”

In a letter nominating him for the Kelly award, JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens wrote, “Since assuming this role (as foundation Chair) three years ago, Mr. Allen has worked to ensure that all foundation initiatives align with the JCPS goal of becoming the country’s best urban school district and that they offer clear and measurable benefits to our students.”

State Board of Education Chairman David Karem said of Allen, “He has been a tireless supporter of education in Kentucky, and we hope he will continue to be for many years to come.”

One of JCPS’s four key goals is to positively engage parents and the community in supporting the schools.

Superintendent Donna Hargens calls this creating “750,000 raving fans.”

It is an ambitious goal, but an essential one: to reach every Jefferson County citizen about how their school system is educating its children – our future – and to enlist them in its fan club.

Other words for fan include “admirer, enthusiast, aficionado, follower, addict, fanatic, groupie.”

Whatever you call it, it is about creating a community that supports and encourages its public school system in a way that drives it to succeed.

True fans make a world of difference.

I know Jim Allen will continue to be a tireless supporter. True fans don’t give up, and Jim Allen is making a world of difference with his support for JCPS students.

Thank you, Jim Allen, for helping lead the way toward 750,000 raving fans for JCPS.

Read more about great fans and great educators…

Business First Editor Carol Brandon Timmons wrote an excellent blog post about the breakfast dialogue and included her observations about being involved in the high schools’ communications career programs. You can read her post at: http://www.bizjournals.com/louisville/blog/2013/05/businesspeople-need-to-go-back-to-school.html?page=3

Additional new awards were presented at the Hilliard Lyons event provided by great long-term fans, including the YMCA award for school counselors, the Fund for the Arts Award, the Audwin & Rae Helton Award, the Ernst & Young business educator award, the Metro United Way Award, and the Junior Achievement Award.  Read about the event and all the winners here: http://www.jefferson.kyschools.us/News/Archive/spotlight/HilliardLyons_Post.pdf

About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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One Response to 750,000 Raving Fans

  1. Paul Wesslund says:

    A smile with substance

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