The Promising Story in Public Education

There is a lot of excitement in JCPS as the first day of school draws near, and we keep our vision in mind that “all students will graduate prepared to reach their full potential and contribute to society throughout life.”

I was reassured this week that we are on course when I attended a kick-off event for school administrators – principals, assistant principals, counselors and central office staff.

Chief Academic Officer Dewey Hensley offered an inspiring call to action, outlining what has shown to be the best formula for kids’ success.

Dr. Hensley knows what he’s talking about after spending years as a teacher and principal, and posting the state’s highest learning gains at a school that was the lowest performing elementary school in the state when he arrived.

I have often heard him answer the question, “What makes a difference in school success?”  He always says that it is focused teachers working together to raise student achievement.

At the kick-off, he expanded on that throughout his presentation to the administrators, saying to make progress we must see “more effective instruction, in more classrooms, more of the time.”

The concept is simple; the reality is more complex.

Our job as public officials – and even as citizens – is to support this work. JCPS teachers have spent significant time over the summer learning more about new academic standards so they can teach them well.

But, I fear the steady drumbeat of the naysayers can damage our progress.

That negative drumbeat gets louder with high profile criticisms of public education in the political arena.

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 the public education story, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country.

Rigorous internationally-benchmarked new standards, a focus on innovation, exciting teacher training, career experiences for students and even dual-credit programs are all raising the bar for educators and students alike.

Much of this work is being done without new recurring funding from state or federal sources. It is being done with local commitment, and by redirecting resources and working efficiently, with higher expectations for all.

This is true in Jefferson County and in Kentucky. We are in year three of implementing the Common Core State Standards – the first state in the nation to implement this initiative to address the need for higher achievement.  And, we are well on our way to integrating a teacher evaluation system focused on supporting teachers to be the best they can be.

These efforts will make a difference.

We still have challenges ahead. And, nobody knows more about the challenges we face than on-the-ground educators. They face the reality of teaching all kids – from all backgrounds and with various needs and abilities – every day.  Teachers are helping each other more than ever now, assessing student work from day one, and tracking their progress toward proficiency.

How can we support this work? We can help take care of issues that can hinder learning. Poverty, discipline issues, language barriers, learning differences, resources, technology, time, transportation, bullying – each of these issues can get in the way.

On August 20, 101,000 students will start school in Louisville, Kentucky, and more than 675,500 will start school this month throughout the Commonwealth. All the debates about education theory or political ideology will not matter on that day, nor on any other day this school year.

What will matter is the safety of the bus driver, the hand that guides the kindergartner through the front door, the nutritious meals served to the kids, the professionalism and teamwork of the educators, the involvement of parents and guardians, community support for kids who have special needs, the business leader who mentors a high school student, the teacher who believes that each child will learn.

We need to continually renew our resolve to support public education. The diverse group of interest groups and educators that came together to create and sell common core standards did that, and it is making a difference.

They showed that there’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing something down.

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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