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“If we have dreams, how are we going to make those become a reality?”
That was one of the questions Marion County Superintendent Taylora Schlosser asked the audience of approximately 130 people, including school staff, site-base decision making council members, local government officials and community leaders gathered at the Marion County Public Schools Strategic Planning Summit, which was held Tuesday, May 6, at Centre Square in Lebanon.
“We want you to have a voice,” Schlosser said. “We want every person here and for many times to come to have a voice in what’s going to make these dreams become a reality. I want you to know that tonight is not an event. This is a process… As this continues to evolve, and we really want Marion County to be a great place to live and work… What are we going to do to make these dreams become a reality?”
Schlosser said the community must start planning now for the next five, 10 and 20 years down the road. And those plans must include reaching for “big dreams,” such as creating an early childhood center and having every graduate be college and career ready.
“Obviously we’ve got to take baby steps, but at some point we’ve got to look up and plan for the next five, 10, 20 years from now,” Schlosser said. “What’s that going to look like? And it can’t just be one person. We can’t point fingers. We all have to take ownership in what this is going to look like.”
Early childhood education was a topic discussed throughout the evening, specifically the need for the district to have preschool available to all 4-year-olds in the county so they are prepared for kindergarten. Currently, Marion County’s kindergarten readiness rate is 56 percent (compared to the state average of 49 percent).
“Only 56 percent of our children that come to kindergarten are prepared for kindergarten,” Schlosser said. “We have children coming to us and they aren’t ready… what are we going to do?”
Schlosser reminded the crowd that in 2002 the Marion County Board of Education voted to fund all-day kindergarten, which is not mandated or funded by the state. MCPS only receives half of the funding for its kindergarten program from the state. Schlosser said she believes the district is at a point where it must consider providing an education for all of the county’s pre-schoolers.
“What would an early childhood center look like?” Schlosser said. “What do we want to do for every 4-year-old?”
The district must also consider what’s being done to help children grow from the moment they’re born.
“Learning starts at birth,” Schlosser said. “And the message can be simple, ‘Read to your children... 20 minutes a day.’ We’ve got to get that message out to parents. We’ve got to create a sense of urgency.”
Joe Roberts, a representative from the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood in Frankfort, spoke to the audience about the importance of early childhood education and the “learning explosion” that takes place during a child’s first two years of life.
“At 2 years old you are laying the framework for how you learn for the rest of your life,” Roberts said. “The learning explosion is a one time shot.”
Roberts said early childhood education is not babysitting, and that it’s absolutely necessary for our children to be able to eventually compete on a global scale. According to Roberts, the number of gifted and talented children in China outnumbers all of the children in America’s public school system.
“Another good reason for early childhood education,” Roberts said.
Roberts referenced a U.S. Military report, which was published in 2013 - “Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve” – which revealed that 75 percent of young adults ages 17-24 can’t join the military. The primary reasons they were unable to join included juvenile diabetes, no high school education and having a criminal record. The solution, according to the report, is greater access to quality early education, which increases graduation rates by as much as 44 percent, Roberts said.
“It’s not just a school problem... It is a community issue,” Roberts said. “The research is clear... if you want to have the biggest impact on a child’s life... early childhood is the place you get the biggest return on your investment.”
Marion County High School’s graduation rate is currently 93 percent, but only 45 percent of graduating seniors are college and career ready. Ensuring that every child is college and career ready is another goal for MCPS, Schlosser said.
“We don’t want kids just to graduate. We want kids to have the ability to have a career in Marion County,” Schlosser said. “We want 100 percent of our children to be college and career ready.”
Terri Thomas, workforce development specialist for the Department of Workforce Investment, briefly spoke to the audience about the importance of Marion County becoming a certified “work ready community.” A Kentucky Work Ready Community certification is a measure of a county’s workforce quality. According to the program, it is an “assurance to business and industry that the community is committed to providing the highly-skilled workforce required in today’s competitive global economy.”
Thomas said she feels confident that Marion County will earn its certification in the future.
The last person to speak to the audience was Debbie Powers, Educational Recovery Director at Kentucky Department of Education. She provides support to the state’s 18 lowest performing schools.
“I’m so proud of this turnout tonight,” she said. “You’re strategically looking at the future… Pulling back the curtain and letting people participate is scary stuff... but we can’t move forward unless we move forward together.”
At the end of the night, Schlosser thanked everyone for attending and asked each person to sign a “pledge card.” But, she wasn’t asking for money, she was asking what those in attendance could do to help the district achieve its dreams.
“What would you be willing to pledge to this commitment to help these big dreams come true? Chair a committee? Host a meeting in your community?” Schlosser said.
She said the work and the decisions that are made now will determine what the next 20 years will be like in Marion County.
“What kind of seeds are we going to plant tonight and what’s the harvest going to be?” Schlosser said. “We’ve got to plant the seeds. We’ve got to weed… Sometimes you need a little Miracle Grow to make things happen. But, eventually, it’s going to grow and then you’re going to have the harvest. What we’re doing tonight is planting the seed.”
Other talking points
Marion County Board of Education Chairman Michael Mullins kicked off the MCPS Strategic Planning Summit with a few jokes, and then complimented the district’s teachers and their dedication. He specifically praised the teachers in the district who have received their National Board Certification.
“I had never heard of being National Board Certified until I became a school board member. I had no idea what it meant,” Mullins said.
While teacher licensure systems set the basic requirements to teach in each state, completion of National Board Certification signifies that teachers have voluntarily gone much further. Board certification is available in 25 certificate areas, from Pre-K through 12th grade. Certification consists of four components: written assessment of content knowledge, reflection on student work samples, video and analysis of teaching practice, and documented impact and accomplishments as a teaching professional.
“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” Mullins said.
According to Mullins, Marion County has 27 National Board Certified teachers, compared to Washington County’s three, Taylor County’s seven and Nelson County’s 10.
“My hat goes off to all the teachers in this school system,” Mullins said. “I know we have some of the best teachers around. We should all be proud.”