A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Rural Eastern Kentucky school leaders working to make schools the center of community revitalization

The Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) and superintendents leading rural public schools in the mountains of eastern Kentucky are in the final stages of developing a position paper and call to action to address the urgent needs and opportunities facing their students and communities. At the start of the 2019 legislative session, they will propose research-based solutions and policy recommendations to better serve disadvantaged rural students statewide.

KVEC is a nationally recognized non-profit education service agency serving Appalachian Kentucky school districts since 1969. KVEC currently provides support and services to 22 eastern Kentucky school districts, 134 schools, and nearly 50,000 students in its economically distressed region. A final report will be released during a press conference on February 12, 2019 at the state capital in Frankfort, KY.

The paper focuses on specific challenges impacting Appalachian Kentucky schools in an economically distressed region and highlights innovative and successful practices in the region that can be replicated at scale in Kentucky and other parts of rural America. Authors advocate for an economic and community development renaissance in eastern Kentucky, where its schools can become empowered centers of community transformation and levers for a successful future. With greater flexibility and appropriate support, school districts can serve as a driving force for sustainable economic growth and community vitality.

An ongoing review of the issues indicates that student educational gains demonstrate the determination of school districts and communities to use education to revitalize their small towns and rural areas. To that end, more equitable funding models and policy enhancements will be emphasized in the final report.

The report will begin with a study of factually relevant data that describes current conditions in the region covering a broad range of indicators that affect education, work, quality of life and community vitality. Historical trends will be examined. Information will be presented clearly and without implication, leaving the process of inference to the reader. Emphasis will be placed on presenting a comprehensive data profile in a simple and coherent format that can be readily understood by diverse audiences.

The second section of the report examines three broad public education areas that impact performance and can significantly impact the economic vitality and quality of life in the region’s communities: a. Teaching and Leading, b. Learning Resources and c. Measuring and Improving. The report will highlight successful education practices currently underway that can be replicated and considers policy implications from a federal, state and local level in an effort to clarify complexity and determine overlap.

a. Teaching and Leading – Reinforces the belief that one of the most critical components of an education system is the quality of people who lead the learning process and the people who support their continuing growth and improvement. The section will identify current realities and analyze the potential for improvement.

b. Learning Resources – Identifies the range and complexity of learning resources available in a school district and reinforces that all resource allocation decisions in a public-school district are made to have the greatest impact on the learner. This section will provide the reader with an understanding of where resources originate, that they are finite, often formulaic, and that not all students in the state have the same total per-pupil expenditure for varied reasons. This section will demonstrate that public school is a complex and ever-evolving eco-system incorporating a broad range of components, funding sources, and measures.

c. Measuring and Improving – Examines assessment and accountability and clearly describes the system public school districts in Kentucky operate within. The section explores possible enhancements to each system (assessment and accountability) that may more fully identify student learning and incorporate that as a measure of school success.

The final section focuses on public education as a catalyst for economic and community development and how the role of schools and school districts can enhance the quality of life and contribute to economic development.

Authors will call upon state leaders to make changes that allow education to serve as a more powerful lever for revitalizing and reinventing local economies in eastern Kentucky. Education, continued systemic change, and a commitment to accelerating economic vitality are key to reversing historical barriers, addressing generational poverty and improving the region’s current trajectory.

Schools and school districts in this region are catalysts for positive change. Kentucky and the nation need strong exemplars of transformational systems to compel broad scale and rapid improvement.

KVEC is accepting input while working to complete this process and invite those interested to reach out and engage in this important conversation. To learn more, contact Ron Daley, KVEC Strategic Partnership Lead via email at ron.daley@hazard.kyschools.us or by phone at 859-388-0406.

From Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative

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