• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Group hears from state Education Commissioner

Members of the group formed to “extend employment prospects to the disadvantaged” heard from interim state Education Commissioner Dr. Wayne Lewis Monday night at the Versailles Municipal Building.

Lewis, a nine-year Woodford County resident whose wife is a counselor at Woodford County High School, spoke about his background and state education reform efforts for 31 minutes, then fielded questions. He was appointed interim education commissioner in April, after his predecessor, Stephen Pruitt, resigned under pressure from state Board of Education members appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin, who’d been critical of Pruitt.

“Bridge the Gap” members attending Monday’s meeting were William Saunders, Nancy Blackford, Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott, Versailles City Council Members Mike Coleman and Mary Ellen Bradley, Woodford Economic Development Authority Chair John Soper and Joe Graviss.

Lewis, who taught in the New Orleans school system after college, said what he saw the first year of teaching informs his work to this day.

He said his 9th grade algebra class at Booker T. Washington High School had many students who couldn’t even add or subtract, in an area where someone died from gunshots every day. “We can’t pretend a classroom is not impacted by context,” he said.

That first year taught him that there are some barriers so large that it doesn’t matter how hard a teacher works if the education system is not reformed, he said.

Lewis said while Kentucky’s high school graduation rate is 90 percent, which is 7th in the nation, only 30 percent of students in the class of 2010 had earned any sort of higher education degree. He said state high schools are graduating kids who can’t read or do basic math. Planned reforms include changing end of course assessments to “end of span” assessments and giving students more flexibility in choosing courses, he said. Not every student needs algebra 2 – some will benefit more from a course in statistics, he said, and schools and school districts should also have more flexibility in order to meet higher expectations.

“Accountability for all shouldn’t be controversial,” Lewis said, adding that other goals include greater transparency and doing a better job involving and empowering parents. The result could be an “education revolution like we’ve never seen before,” he said.

Saunders asked if higher expectations meant requiring more credits from students and more education for teachers. Lewis said the state’s minimum requirement for credits, at 22, won’t change, and that many school districts, including Woodford County’s, require more. He also addressed a change in policy by the state professional standards board to not require teachers to obtain a master’s degree. Except for math, research shows teachers with master’s degrees are no more effective than others, he said. Teachers will continue to be paid more for advanced degrees, he said.

Saunders also asked about teacher diversity. “It’s a challenge,” Lewis responded, saying the state teacher force wasn’t much more diverse than it was in the 1950s. Colleges and universities that train teachers must do a better job of recruiting, he said.

“The nuggets that I come away with is this is what Bridge the Gap is trying to do, trying to to deal with barriers, trying to hold city government officials accountable, and produce empowerment to make a better life and make a better community,” Blackford said.

Traugott opened the meeting by discussing a proposed new, part-time city job: director of minority empowerment. He said Bradley had been studying the matter and that the long-term goal is to have it be a county-wide position, and that he believed incoming Woodford Judge-Executive James Kay would be receptive to the idea. Graviss suggested the “abilities” portion of the job description include skills like Microsoft Word and Excel and experience with social media.

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