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New Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky will encourage school innovation

By Judy Clabes
KyForward Editor

A new statewide Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky was announced today by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. The fund aims to build private-public partnerships and raise money to support innovation in education, rewarding and incentivizing teachers and schools to find new ways to improve student learning.

Several people spoke about the new foundation's potential. (Photo by Judy Clabes)

The new nonprofit that will start by partnering with the Kentucky Department of Education to administer two recent grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation totaling nearly $3 million. The first grant will help establish teacher networks and forums so innovative teachers “connect” around the state to share promising ideas for improving student outcomes.

The second grant aims to bring together teachers in the “core” subject areas, such as science and math, for collaboration on student assignments.

The fund will also raise additional finances to support other innovative projects, such as providing “venture capital” to individual teachers and schools that have promising new ideas but need funding.

“In business, we typically set aside funds for research and development,” said Billy Harper, president of Harper Industries in Paducah and a long-time advocate for educational improvement. He is chairman of the fund. “ R&D leads to improved products and services, sustains jobs and gives us a competitive edge.  We hope the fund will play the same sort of role in encouraging and supporting innovative new approaches in education, preschool through high school.”

“Looking further down the road, we will work to raise more money so we can provide an even bigger boost for innovative thinkers in schools. . .We think our goal of providing seed money for breakthrough ideas will have appeal to the many folks and organizations who want to help further transform education in Kentucky.”

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday, Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, and Cindy Heine of the Prichard Committee also spoke enthusiastically about the potential of the fund, only the second one of its kind in the country.

Founders of the fund carefully studied the Colorado Legacy Foundation, which started in 2008 and has partnered with the Colorado Department of Education on several successful projects, as a good model.

Some Kentucky districts are already trying out innovative new practices and getting great results. For example, Eminence Independent District is using technology, not as a goal in itself but rather as an effective tool to personalize instruction and better engage students.  

And in Danville, teachers from very different subject areas are now collaborating to help students better understand how skills in one subject area can relate to another.

“These are the sorts of innovative practices the fund will be trying to foster and replicate,” said Lt. Gov. Abramson.

“Elkhorn Crossing School in Scott County is trying new approaches to prepare students for high-skilled careers in fields like biomedical sciences and engineering,” said Abramson who serves on the board of directors for the fund.  “And Hardin County Schools has joined a dynamic new partnership with Western Kentucky University, the Central Kentucky Community Foundation, and the Elizabethtown Community and Technical College to jointly promote college and careers.”

Initially, the fund’s office will be located at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in Frankfort. Jim Wiseman, recently retired from Toyota Engineering and Motor Manufacturing in NYC, is returning to Kentucky to run the fund and oversee its development.

Board members include, in addition to Harper, Holliday and Abramson, David Adkisson of the Kentucky Chamber; C.B. Akins, UK Trustee; Buddy Berry, Superintendent of Eminence Independent School District; Jim Booth of Booth Energy; Bill Farmer of United Way of the Bluegrass, Robert King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education; Mary John O’Hair, dean, College of Education University of Kentucky; Mary Pat Regan, CEO, AT&T Kentucky; Carl Rollins, state representative; Stu Silberman, executive director, Prichard Committee; Lee Todd, former president of the University of Kentucky; Mary Gwen Wheeler, member of the Kentucky Board of Education; Gene Wilhoit, executive director, National Center on Innovation in Education; and Mike Wilson, state senator.

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