The Courage in Patience: What I Took From the Ed Commissioner’s State of K-12 Address

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.


Click to access R%2016-003%20SoE%20release.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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2 Responses to The Courage in Patience: What I Took From the Ed Commissioner’s State of K-12 Address

  1. Brad Matthews says:

    Nice piece, I certainly agree! Hope it will cause our new governor to pause before he dismantles decades of hard work by thousands of Kentucky educators.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. I agree with your general comments, Debbie, that it will take courage and patience to improve Kentucky’s education system.

    However, I find a number of problems with specific claims in Commissioner Pruitt’s State of Education report. For example, Kentucky’s gains on the eighth grade math and reading tests from the National Assessment of Educational Progress are only about average. At the eighth grade Kentucky has not “realized greater gains in reading and math in the past decade than students in almost all other states.”

    Also, Kentucky’s rapid growth in high school diplomas is clearly dubious. We are handing out more paper, but consider this: the commissioner claims that the 2015 high school graduation rate in Kentucky was 88 percent and that this is particularly notable because Kentucky requires Algebra II to graduate but other states don’t. That claim just doesn’t mesh with the fact that the proficiency rate on the state’s Algebra II End-of-Course exam has never been higher than 38.2 percent in the past three years. Clearly, a lot of Kentucky kids are getting diplomas even though they don’t meet the published standards those diplomas are supposed to represent.

    I also note the Bluegrass Policy Blog isn’t listed in your blogs I follow list. You might want to add to your reading. I think you will find it very educational.

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