SUNDAY EDITION - SIDEBAR: Q&A with Kentucky Education Commission - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION - SIDEBAR: Q&A with Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

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Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday chats with WDRB education reporter Toni Konz Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday chats with WDRB education reporter Toni Konz
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) - Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday sat down with WDRB's Toni Konz to talk about his first five years on the job and what his goals are for the state's schoolchildren.

[RELATED: Five years later, Kentucky education chief Terry Holliday puts reform back on track]

QUESTION: What were your goals when you arrived in Kentucky?

ANSWER: My goals were Senate Bill 1. I was real excited when I read the legislation. It was about the same time they were putting out the application for a new commissioner. That's what led me to be real interested in coming to Kentucky to work. The key points were new academic standards with a college and career readiness focus, which is big. To me, that's the No. 1 thing. New assessments and new accountability that was more balanced and not just focused on standardized testing. It was good timing for me.

Q: How do you think Kentucky has done over the past five years?

A: I think the state has done extremely well. Certainly, I have made a lot of mistakes. But I've relied heavily on teachers and superintendents to help guide the work. I've had a great governor to work with, the General Assembly has been bipartisan – that's worked out well. The Kentucky Board of Education has been a great state board to work with. And Kentucky educators have been very open to all of the work.

Q: What would your critics would say about you?

A: Too much too fast. That's usually the No. 1 criticism. Everything makes sense, it sounds good, but Dr. Holliday, we don't have enough money, it's just too much to do or Dr. Holliday, this is a lot of hard work. What I come back with is that the children you have in front of you today, they only pass this way once. Are you really going to look at those kids and say you don't really want to work that hard? We have to make sure we make sure that our decisions in best interest of the children, not the adults in the system. 

Q: Let's talk about Jefferson County Public Schools. How do you think they have done over the last five years?

A: It has been slow, but I've definitely seen progress over the last three years in particular. Jefferson County has a unique situation with the politics in the community around the schools. Too often we are thinking about salaries and contracts rather than taking the core improvements. Jefferson County has in the past, had way too many initiatives without knowing which ones were working. They are working on it. Very slow work there because of the political issues in the community.

Q: You have watched Jefferson County carefully. Why such the interest in JCPS?

A: Half of my minority children in Kentucky schools are in Jefferson County. I can't possibly close academic achievement gap and the college and career readiness gap if I don't see significant progress in Jefferson County -- and to a lesser degree in Fayette County. I'm starting to look closely at Fayette County's equity issues. They have not changed, gotten worse over the last three to four years. I look in Jefferson County a lot, but I also look at other districts that have a large minority population and where children are just not being successful.

Q: You were recently elected president of the Council of Chief State School Officers. What does that entail?

A: I'm basically the spokesperson for all of the chief state school officers in the United States. Last week, I met with Arne Duncan to talk about key issues around No Child Left Behind waivers and other issues that state chiefs bring to me. We also push certain agenda issues. I have in place this year a national task force that is bringing recommendations about career readiness. We've done a great job focusing on the college readiness side, but need to do a lot more work on the career readiness side. We push too many kids to four-year colleges when it would probably be more appropriate if they were prepared in industry-recognized certifications that quite often only require 1-2 years of college.

The other big issue we've been pushing is teacher preparation. How do we better prepare teachers for the children they face? Quite often the challenges we see in Jefferson County or Fayette County is the teacher candidates coming out aren't ready for the urban setting they are going to face. 

Q: Let's talk Common Core. Is Kentucky moving away or pushing forward?

A: You have to remember that the General Assembly – with the requirements of Senate Bill 1 – said we had to have language arts and math standards by Dec. 2010. The only way we could possibly get that done was to adopt the Common Core. The intent of the education chairs, governor and speaker and president of senate at the time -- was that we would adopt Common Core and so we did. And then we would adopt the science standards. The timeline we were working on was legislatively mandated, it had nothing to do with the federal government. It was Kentucky state legislators that gave us those timelines.

We've been in it about five years now, so it's time to refresh the standards. It's time to ask teachers, what's working, what's not. Ask parents, community to provide input. Going through a review process over the next nine months. The goal behind the website – we want teachers to go online once a week to give us feedback on standards they are teaching that week. We want teachers to give us input while they are teaching the standards, not after the fact.

We also want to provide those outspoken critics of the Common Core with an opportunity to put up or shut up. What specifically is your concern? It's one thing to say it's a conspiracy…show us which standard you have an issue with, tell us why you think that's the case and we'll look into it. Give us some evidence, otherwise it's just an opinion.

Q: Kentucky's new teacher evaluation system. Where are we with that and when do you see things progressing?

A: Every teacher is going through that right now. We spent four years working with teacher unions all across Kentucky (including the Jefferson County Teachers Association). We developed a great system that is being implemented this year, every teacher will use it, but it won't be used for personnel decisions. It's like a stateside field test. Our issues right now are software challenges. I worry about the software undermining four years of hard work. We are trying to get teachers to tell us what's not working so we can fix the software glitches. I don't want any teacher to be turned off to the system because of the software. They will be used statewide for personnel decisions in 2015-16 statewide.

Q: What do you hope people will see when they look at Terry Holliday's tenure as commissioner?

A: I hope they see more students graduating from high school and that they were ready for the next step, which means they were ready to go into military, a career or two or four year colleges. When we started in 2009, only 30 percent of kids were ready for the next step. This year, we were hoping to go above 60 percent and it looks like we're going to make it. We've doubled in five years. And then we want to keep moving, keep increasing the number of students who have a brighter future. That's the only thing that is of importance to me.

Q: You have placed a large emphasis on the importance of career readiness, not just college readiness. Why is that?

A: I think for too long, we've defined success is that you go and get a four year degree. This nation has been wrong about that. If you look at every other nation, they seem to have it a little better in looking at the labor force. If we look at the labor force in this nation, what we see is that the college degree requirement for jobs is only 30-35 percent. But if you look at the skills needed to get a good paying job, something to support a family, you are going to need more technical skills.

In this nation, we have way too many students graduating with a four-year degree that cannot find work and when they do find work, it does not pay a living wage. If a student expresses an interest in automotives while in high school, that's a wonderful career. Those mechanics that come through and know the technology are starting at $60,000 a year right out of high school or with a one-year industry certification. And that is not the end of their education, they have to keep getting certifications.

One of biggest challenges is we have to change the mindset of parents and students that four-year college is good goal for some, but the military is great goal for others, a one-year industry certification is great goal. The ultimate goal -- find your passion and find something that would give you at least a living wage within your passion and then dedicate your education to achieving your passion. If you can do that right out of high school, great.

Q: What is the day in the life of Terry Holliday?

Too many meetings (laughs). Probably the most fun I've had was the three years I spent going to every district in the state. I think I've been in over 600 schools, I kind of lost count after awhile. Every place is different, got to see what the district and schools were really proud of and I got to speak to teachers and kids. The most difficult days are during the General Assembly session, you are never quite sure what will come up next. I go to committee meetings or watch them on TV, listen to the full sessions, you never know what will come up each day.

It's a lot of meetings, lots of phone conferences, meeting with politicians to hear their concerns, give them a vision for where you are headed. And lots of responding to emails.

No two days are alike, which is good part of the job. It's a very interesting job. I also spend a good bit of time on Twitter and social media to watch what's going on with national trends and stories. I like to keep an eye on what Congress is doing and what's going on nationally, internationally -- I like to stay well informed with topics that could impact Kentucky.

Q: What is your goal for the next five years?

A: Making sure that our kids are globally ready. We aren't just competing with Indiana anymore, we are competing with Japan and lots of other countries. Our kids have to understand regional issues – if you were trying to work with a business in Iraq and you don't understand a lot of the internal or cultural conflicts, that can be a problem. So many kids don't have a clue, many of them don't even know where Iraq is. What are we going to do to really push not just college readiness but global readiness and understanding cultures.

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