Ky. Voices: Education leadership key to Appalachia's success in global market

The dramatic reshuffling of the world economies in 2008 presents opportunities for K-12, postsecondary educational providers and job creation entities to advance Eastern Kentucky.

Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat noted that because of the influence of digital interconnectivity, the world "flattened" about the year 2000. The lightning-swift advances in technology and communications forced every individual, organization and business into the global economy, requiring employees and job seekers to upgrade their skills.

Reverberating economic upheavals and lost financial resources have encouraged efficiencies in for-profit and non-profit operations, reducing some jobs while creating new global workers.

Appalachian Kentucky, despite having some of the highest poverty and lowest educational rates in the state and the nation, can creatively use its resources to leapfrog other regions in job creation and quality-of-life enhancement by preparing its citizens for new jobs and vocations. Years of regional collaboration using good old-fashioned mountain ingenuity are producing opportunities.

A bold and innovative project creating the first rural "educonomy" empowerment zone in the nation is under way in the Kentucky River and Big Sandy region. The newly created Appalachian Teaching and Leadership Network uses blended financial resources and civic capital to raise education levels and tie them to economic growth.

The network will engage the bright minds in Appalachian Kentucky to creatively and effectively use available resources, while seeking to acquire new resources, to raise education levels throughout the region. The collaborative effort will result in a comprehensive plan for P-20 education (an integrated system that extends from pre-school through higher education) working with local businesses and tying education to economic development and the global job market.

The strategy has been developed through the work of the two P-16 councils — Big Sandy and Kentucky River — that are joining their efforts to serve a larger area. P-16 councils across the state are comprised of residents, educators, organizations, businesses and other stakeholders to raise education levels and promote the value of education in their communities. The network will be a vehicle to provide professional development and leadership training to educators and other citizens that will:

 Coordinate education services in P-20 to avoid unnecessary duplication and promote best practices and latest learning research.

 Engage entire communities in education and its value; connect businesses and organizations to schools.

 Build academic programming to serve the needs of businesses while preparing students and communities for the global economy; research and promote awareness of jobs and the necessary education and skills for the work.

 Secure funding for valuable educational programs.

 Work with the appropriate local, state and national officials to develop and implement a plan that coordinates the impact of K-12, adult education and higher education on job growth.

The network will ensure maximum opportunity for participation from all constituents in an environment that does not require unproductive travel time or wasted resources. A byproduct will be the increased use of technology for educational improvement by educators.

Leadership in education is crucial to a school's success and, most important, to student success. Likewise, community leadership development is essential to improving the community. The network will concentrate its efforts on "growing our own." It will work with leaders to improve their abilities and identify potential leaders in the region to participate in a program designed to focus on individual and collegial leadership development.

This investment will ensure that districts have prepared and capable leaders active in current education initiatives and are ready to accept increased responsibility when needed. The most effective strategy for continuous school improvement is developing a team of leaders who share the same overarching vision and collaborate to achieve identified goals.

We are often reminded that "everything rises and falls on leadership." That awareness causes a sense of urgency that is crucial to keep students engaged in learning and to prepare them for success in the future.