School boards play a critical role in Kentucky's public education. Yet, I would venture to say, even though they are elected, the public does not always understand or fully appreciate everything their school board members do.
The decisions they make impact hundreds of thousands of lives — from those of students, to teachers and administrators, parents and the community at large.
It is local school board members' dedication to ensuring that we are doing the right things for children and the members' willingness to take the next step, even when it is a difficult step to take, that keeps Kentucky public education on a path of continuous improvement.
Our goal is for all Kentucky students to graduate from high school, college/career-ready. Career-ready means preparing students with the academic foundation, employability and job skills needed to pursue postsecondary job training, enter the military or land a job that pays a living wage.
Kentucky has made great strides toward this goal, and none of our progress would have been possible without the commitment and dedication of local school board members. Members have:
■ Signed the Commonwealth Commitment — a pledge to increase the rates of college and career readiness in their high schools by 50 percent by 2015. Four years ago, the statewide college- and career-readiness rate stood at 34 percent. This year, 62 percent of Kentucky students are considered ready.
■ Supported increasing the dropout age from 16 to 18. As of today, 170 of our 173 school districts have adopted policies to raise the compulsory school attendance age as early as next fall.
■ Worked hard to support policies and initiatives aimed at improving graduation rates. Not that long ago, Kentucky had a graduation rate of less than 70 percent. In 2013, the state moved to a more accurate measure along with the other 49 states. The class of 2014 had an 87.4 percent graduation rate, which ranks Kentucky among the top states.
■ Answered the state's call to improve transparency and accountability for superintendents by posting superintendent contracts and benefits online, and strengthening superintendent evaluations by reviewing progress on graduation rates, proficiency rates, achievement gaps, working conditions and key financial matters.
■ Embraced improved state training that provides them with the ethics and financial knowledge they need to ensure their districts are operating effectively, efficiently and responsibly.
■ Joined other education groups in successfully lobbying the General Assembly for more classroom dollars. At the same time, many local boards also have shown the courage to levy the optional 4 percent tax rate to ensure teachers and students have the resources they need.
Other initiatives include supporting the full implementation of the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System for teachers, principals, and superintendents, working to improve kindergarten readiness, ensuring every child is reading on grade level by the end of third grade, and increasing participation and success in Advanced Placement courses.
I join others in offering my heartfelt thanks to Kentucky's school board members for the time they invest, the hours they put in, the tough questions they ask and the hard decisions they make on a regular basis.
Their work matters and they deserve our appreciation — not just in School Board Member Appreciation Month, but all year round.