Properly Supporting Kentucky’s Future – Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Properly Supporting Kentucky’s Future

Purposeful, meaningful change in education requires innovative district-level leadership from both superintendent and school board. For instance, a school board can show support of a superintendent’s ideas and through the decision-making processes to allocate resources to support initiatives, such as personnel and funding (Lavalley, 2017). Research suggests that decisions made among districts’ superintendents and their school board members directly attributes to the academic performance within high-performing schools (Delagardelle, 2006). Boards who invested time to educate themselves about the academic performance of their students and made proper decisions to support educational excellence had a direct and positive impact on student performance (Shelton 2010). Further, boards who properly funded instructional initiatives, provided positive communication to their communities, and supported the district’s instructional direction had a significant impact on positive district change.

Our education system calls P12 school districts to sustain current and historical instructional practices while pushing for student preparation focused on the future. To prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs, innovative education leaders are expected to foster environments that are conducive to and create learning environments that will inspire student academic performance essential to their future success (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Vockley, M., 2006). School districts are expected to meet these demands amid unprecedented budget cuts. Factoring in inflation rates, for instance, Kentucky is considered the 4th worst in the nation for education budget cuts or non-funding (Spalding, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, 2019). While the SEEK formula is important for equal financial support for all Kentucky students, Spalding reports that many times, local taxpayers are responsible for subsidizing the state’s decreased funding. In such circumstances, schools in low-income areas suffer greatly, and other districts must reduce staff and cut back on courses and offerings such as music and art to support the basic needs of the district. The question remains – how do Kentucky schools meet the needs of today’s students with continued decreased funding?

In full honesty, I’m writing this post six days after I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation that focused on the decision-making processes of innovative district leaders who operate with constrained resources. My study focused on the innovation efforts of rural Kentucky districts and the leaders who led them through the process of change. I researched the characteristics of innovative rural Kentucky superintendents who successfully introduced, planned, implemented, and sustained purposeful change within their school districts. I also explored the relationships that these superintendents had with their boards of education and how they affected such innovative change efforts. Stone (2002) states that the current transition to an information age creates a need for systematic change to unlearn established practices in education and industry. I attempted to examine academic literature related to executive, innovative decision-making at a school district-level. I confirmed Lindle (1995) correct in his statement that academic research on the subject matter is limited. To create a conceptual framework for my study, I incorporated my business background and explored business innovation literature,  equivocating the role of the superintendent and a school district to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and an organization (Kowalski, 2011). It occurred to me after spending hours reading scholars like Shavinina (2003) that businesses would fold if there were no investment in their continued research and development. Many innovative companies create entire departments to focus on developing new systems, products, and ideas and budgets dedicated to innovation, research, and the betterment of the organization. Further, businesses make purposeful decisions to unlearn antiquated methods, systems, and information to allow for the learning of new, more relevant ways of doing business (Tsang & Zahra, 2008).

Our current education landscape, however, paints a much different picture. Education faces external pressures created by the lack of support (money, systems, personnel) needed to achieve success. Kentucky’s state leaders have decided to stop investing in the development of its educational organization by reducing the funding its “P20 educational arm” of the business (pardon the education-to-business analogy). These leaders, however, require continued innovation from its people and its system. This mode of thinking doesn’t make sense. One could posit that funding has been reduced or used as a bargaining chip, stealing valuable resources from our children. I would assert that our children are wildly worthy of investment.

Could we equate our education system a business bogged down in minutia, restricted by antiquated rules and regulations, stripped of necessary resources to operate? Should we expect this organization to innovate and thrive under current circumstances? There is rarely a business in existence that would ever accept such irresponsible use of resources for paperwork and ineffective old systems. Few enterprises succeed under a restriction of or decrease in income. Are there better ways for school districts to spend money? The work of Smarter School Spending and scholars like Levenson, Baehr, Smith, and Sullivan (2014) say yes, there are better and more efficient ways for districts to allocate resources to increase student achievement. However, my research experience also provided examples of business-savvy Kentucky school district leaders who are making tough decisions to pay their bills while trying to create new opportunities for their students.

Does Kentucky want to continue to educate our children within the confines of 20th-century systems, funding, and mindsets? Or do we want to properly prepare our students for the 21st-century life that they will live upon graduation? I believe there is an opportunity to work together and find the best practices for funding our schools while agreeing upon a mutual mission – to properly prepare Kentucky’s children for their future.  Numerous respected scholars posit that innovation and change occur within supported systems, among trusted people, within cultures that encourage risk-taking and new ideas (Burke & Barron, 2014; Shavinina, 2011; Holman, Devane, & Cady, 2007; Blase and Blase, 2000; Eisenbach, Watson & Pillai, 1999). In order for positive, purposeful, and systemic change to occur, Kentucky should support our 173-acting school district CEOs (i.e., superintendents) and their school boards. We should provide them with the tools necessary to do their job: continued and meaningful professional training, an environment that allows innovative risk-taking based on research, respectful and continued communication due their profession and those whom they represent, and proper income to support excellence in instruction.

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