Prichard Committee Annual Meeting Examines
Transforming School Climate and Culture
Experts, Students and Advocates Discuss Ways to Improve Kentucky Education
LEXINGTON – KY – Student achievement is significantly influenced by the climate and culture of schools and communities, according to presenters to this week’s annual meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
Advocates, education experts and students convened to discuss the current state of education in Kentucky and examine ways to transform school climate and culture to improve student outcomes.
Prichard Committee Executive Director Brigitte Blom Ramsey shared findings from committee reports, noting that their findings “suggest the complexity of the task before us as we work together to make education in Kentucky the best it can be.”
“We believe that to accelerate the positives and tackle the daunting challenges, we must have courageous conversations about the current state of affairs and take action with renewed urgency to transform climate and culture at scale in Kentucky’s public schools – and in Kentucky’s communities.”
Dr. Vicki Phillips, national education strategist and former Director of Education, College Ready, for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, described her educational journey growing up in rural Kentucky as one that was greatly influenced by the encouragement of another student.
Phillips wrote the foreword to the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team’s new book, Ready or Not, Stories from the Students Behind the Statistics. She introduced team members and high school seniors Sahar Mohammadzadeh and Zach Sippy, who led the assembly in a discussion of students’ school experiences.
A panel of educators addressed reasons that schools and students succeed in a panel discussion led by Vince Mattox, a cultural competency and school governance expert. Roszalyn M. Akins, Founder of Future BMW (Black Males Working) in Lexington, Alvin Garrison, Superintendent, Covington Independent Schools, and Tim Schlosser, Principal, Franklin-Simpson High School, spoke of the ways they promote positive school culture and stressed that community collaboration is essential for success. “The stars need to align,” said Garrison. “Local groups are ready to help. They just need somebody to come in and say, ‘Here is where we are going and this is how we are going to get there.’”
Amanda Ripley, a nationally acclaimed journalist and author of The Smartest Kids in the World, shared her observations from traveling the world speaking to parents, students and educators.
“The holy grail of school climate is to get students to buy into it, to believe,” she said. “One positive thing that students from around the world who live in the United States as exchange students say is that they really like their teachers. They are startled by how interested the teachers are in hearing from them. This is a strength because you can’t learn to think for yourself if you never get to speak. This is a fantastic advantage that the United States has.”
Ripley said that nine out of 10 exchange students she surveyed said that American kids care more about sports than they do about doing well in school. “The problem with that is that it’s not going to lead to lifelong fulfilment in the modern economy.”
“The bottom line of all my reporting is pretty simple. The reason kids buy into school in other counties is that it is more serious,” she said.
Matthew Barzun, former United States Ambassador to Sweden and the United Kingdom, said he was inspired by Ripley’s ideas and that they caused him to reflect on the concept of accountability. “Accountability is what you have left when you take away responsibility,” he said. He asked that the group consider the more holistic concept of shared responsibility, not just accountability, when thinking about education.
To close the meeting, Justin Bathon, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky, led the group in using the ideas shared during the day to mobilize action on behalf of improving educational outcomes in their local communities.
As part of the annual proceedings, Committee member Harry Moberly presented the Prichard Committee Award of Excellence to Ruth Webb Kelly, former Kentucky Department of Education staff member, in recognition of her many contributions to education in Kentucky.
The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is an independent, non-partisan citizens’ group. Comprised of volunteer civic and business leaders from across Kentucky, the Committee has worked to improve education for Kentuckians of all ages since 1983.