We are used to fact-laden speeches from policy makers, but last week’s state of education speech from our new commissioner offered much more.
He reminded us of the virtues necessary to really make societal changes that affect people’s lives.
Two words stuck with me from Commissioner Stephen Pruitt’s speech: courage and patience.
He said it takes courage to make tough decisions, like Kentucky leaders did in the early 1990s. “Change doesn’t happen by accident, it happens when people have courage,” he explained.
He followed that by calling for patience, which doesn’t seem to be the virtue we would normally combine with courage.
Pruitt said it is easy to hurry, especially when you are eager for change. But, he warned that doing things too quickly often doesn’t lead to lasting results.
“It takes courage to be patient,” he said.
He referred to the long commitment Kentuckians have had to quality public education. Achievement improvements didn’t occur over a few years, but have been earned by steady support over more than two decades.
Persistence is another word I think of often with regard to education. I got that from Dewey Hensley, a gifted educator who has been a passionate advocate for “poor kids.” He says it’s important that they learn to persist, because schoolwork can be frustrating, especially when you are coming from behind. This trait will stay with them throughout their lives.
Kentuckians have shown persistence. It hasn’t been easy, but we stuck with a bold plan and have reached important goals.
Dr. Pruitt’s demeanor and determination were encouraging to me.
The rhetoric around public education is not particularly virtuous. It is often based on sound bites and short-term political gains. Not the traits any of us teaches our own children.
Dr. Pruitt admitted we still have a lot of work to do.
He said we should make necessary changes, but not only for the sake of change. He added what we all know: that it takes wisdom to know the difference. I would say it takes courage, also, to know the difference.
Talking about his decision to move to Kentucky and take this leadership position, he said, “I do feel like this is a calling for me.”
When people feel a calling, it is an internal drive to take on something that’s big. It takes courage.
His goal is big: that “every single child has the opportunity to achieve in their life.”
He knows we are up to the task. He said, “I came here because of the courage that has been displayed for the last 25 years in Kentucky.”
In his hour-long speech, he talked about many issues: education standards, assessments, funding adequacy and equity, middle school math, career programs, the achievement gap, even cursive writing.
We won’t continue solid progress in any of these areas until we pull together again with respect for public education as an institution that has made a real difference in our state and across the nation.
It might require a little courage – and patience – on your part.
You can read the press release on the State of K-12 Public Education Report at this link. You will find a link to a video of his presentation at the end of that release.