Mountain residents busy planning our own future

August 19, 2013 

Ron Daley, a former Knott County weekly newspaper publisher/editor and the chairperson for the Kentucky Association of Local P-16 Councils, lives in Hazard.

I respectfully disagree with the premise in the Aug. 1 editorial which echoed a plea from Al Smith and Ron Eller urging "the governor to bring community leaders together to seek new directions for the economically battered region (Eastern Kentucky)." We do not need the governor to do this; we must do this ourselves and we are in the process of taking this action.

Stakeholders in the Appalachian Teaching and Leadership Network are convinced that we can use our "rural genius" to usher in an Appalachian renaissance, raising educational levels and growing the economy.

We have seized upon the commonwealth's innovative Kentucky Work Ready Community program created by the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board as the blueprint to tie education to job growth. The process is organizing communities to improve the quality of life, generate positive public relations within the counties, and enable the region to be the first "Rural Ed-uconomy Empowerment Zone" in the nation.

While the reestablishment of the Kentucky Appalachian Commission will be beneficial to the region, we cannot afford to wait for outside political forces to make that decision. We know our challenges; we know our hopes and dreams and we already know some of the strategies and solutions.

We can develop a comprehensive plan to submit to the governor, the Kentucky General Assembly and other appropriate entities.

We are developing and implementing best practices in education and economic development which will be replicated in the rest of rural America. An excellent example of the amazing, creative talent possessed by our region's leadership was demonstrated in last year's U.S. Department of Energy's Race to the Top district competition. Sixteen Appalachian Kentucky school districts collaborated to submit a comprehensive proposal that narrowly missed funding.

The partners have since moved forward with collaborative projects focused on personalized learning, career and college readiness, student agency and increased transparency.

These collaborating partners realize that the vision outlined in last year's proposal is critical for the future of the region and are already working to develop a refined and improved proposal for this year's competition. Grant resources will enable partners to accelerate and deepen the impact of comprehensive continuous educational improvement. The East Kentucky Leadership Foundation is in the process of updating the East KY Initiative Platform which will be submitted to Gov. Steve Beshear for his use in updating his Appalachian Development Plan.

The platform includes education, economic development, health, natural resources, the use of coal severance taxes and a mechanism for the governor's office to regularly hear the needs of and updates on the region. Beshear acted on some key elements of the initiative using Appalachian Regional Commission funding.

As a member of the foundation, I will be coordinating listening and think-tank sessions to develop the education platform component. You are invited to participate in this dialogue. I can be contacted at rdaley98@yahoo.com.

The stars are aligned in Appalachian Kentucky to take advantage of enhanced education and training, emerging new leaders, a spirit of regionalism and entrepreneurism, improved infrastructure and some exciting best practices in community development for the region to make exponential progress on many fronts.

To move forward, the region's citizenry and leaders must have a common vision — and that vision is growing clearer as we increase our collaboration. We cannot wait for some outside person or entity to do what we must do for ourselves.

Ron Daley, a former Knott County weekly newspaper publisher/editor and the chairperson for the Kentucky Association of Local P-16 Councils, lives in Hazard.

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