Op-Ed: Kentucky Voted Against Charter Schools

With Inauguration Day for the governor quickly approaching, it is time to address the elephant in the room for all of us in education: What is next for the Kentucky Department of Education? 

Andy Beshear campaigned on a promise to put a new Kentucky Board of Education in place that would immediately name a new Commissioner of Education for our Commonwealth. The press reports this action will be challenged by current Board of Education members who are clawing to retain power so they can see charter schools open across our state.

The teachers voted.

The populace voted.

We all voted against charters.

If the current Kentucky Board of Education disagrees with the impending changes that were campaigned on and promised, they owe it to the students and teachers in the state to step aside. When Presidents leave the White House, there are people that move on quietly for a multitude of reasons. When Andy Beshear moves into the Governor’s Mansion, the same thing should happen for those in state government.

With Governor-elect Beshear’s announcement, some education groups are jostling and maneuvering to gain influence, without any care for their communities and their best interests. One group has already stated a national search should take place. Whatever happens next with the board of education and commissioner, there is only one thing that must happen.

Those in power must listen to the educators in the state.

When principals and superintendents are selected to lead schools and districts, there is a process in place that allows stakeholders to offer input. The interview processes for both require collective decision-making by district leaders, teachers, and parents.

When the Kentucky Board of Education named the last Commissioner of Education, they did so without a job posting or notice of an interview that was non-existent. They did so without asking the education professionals in the state what they wanted. They did so without any due diligence.

Kentucky has grown leaps and bounds in education since the adoption of the Kentucky Education Reform Act. This is a fact that cannot be disputed. This growth is due to the hard work and unwavering dedication of all school employees, regardless of job titles. The growth of our students was not due to Commissioners of Education that were from Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, or Louisiana. To come out and say a national search must be conducted is irresponsible and completely disrespectful to the thousands of education professionals who show up to work every day in our Kentucky schools.

Instead of saying a national search should take place, educators and education groups around the state should demand the following:

1) Hold listening sessions through our education cooperatives around the state to allow educators, classified staff, and parents the chance to create a profile for the person that will serve us.

2) Visit schools to speak with students to ask what are the most important issues to them, that a new commissioner would need to address.

3) Do not spend $80,000 on search firm that knows nothing about us or our values to sift through applications for who to interview. Imagine what $80,000 would do in any school district in our state.

4) Create a committee of elementary and secondary teachers and principals, school support staff, superintendents, parents and students to help guide the Kentucky Board of Education with candidates, should there be a vacancy. 

5) Do what’s best for our children, not what’s best for ideology or partisan politics.

I can confidently say after spending 13 years as a student at Russell Independent Schools in Russell, Kentucky, after three college degrees from different universities in the state, and as a 14-year educator with experience in urban, suburban, and rural districts in Kentucky, the answer to what’s best for our students isn’t an automatic call for a national search. It’s listening to those that know our system and students best; the people that work in school districts around the Commonwealth.

With groups already calling for a national search, it is time the education professionals of Kentucky continue our advocacy. We did not waiver over the last two years when we were disrespected repeatedly by those in leadership positions around the state. We will not waiver in demanding that the next leader of the Kentucky Department of Education serves our students and teachers. For the future of our state depends on them, not people that hide behind political agendas that don’t parallel our values.

Written by John Darnell, principal of Bellevue High and Middle Schools