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In Conversation With ... Brigitte Blom Ramsey
In Conversation With … features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the
Kentucky School Advocate
. Brigitte Blom Ramsey became executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in September. She has made Kentucky education a priority throughout her career, serving on the Pendleton County Board of Education and the state Board of Education, as well as focusing on early childhood policy for United Way of Greater Cincinnati. She joined the Prichard Committee in mid-2014 as assistant director.
Q: How has your prior work equipped you for your role with the Prichard Committee?
It was a great experience to serve on the local board of education for 10 years and be a part of positive community change and have community members be part of that voice in education. My work at the United Way of Greater Cincinnati was a manager of nonprofit partners, all working on the same issue. The work I’ve done has led me to this point in a way that harkens back to the Prichard Committee’s original ideals around community voices making a difference.
Q. How has the Prichard Committee changed since it was created in 1983?
The committee’s original focus was on increasing quality in postsecondary education, but it quickly realized that to increase postsecondary education, we had to focus on K-12 education. Shortly after we were established, the Governor’s Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership was added, so advocacy in public policy and education and parent leadership at the local level have been the pillars of our work. In the last few years, we added our Student Voice Team, a supported effort to raise student voices around the delivery of education in the classroom. That new piece of our work will grow. Also, now, with increased college and career readiness rates, it is time for us to look at postsecondary again.
Q. What will study of postsecondary education involve?
We are looking at system indicators, postsecondary systems and taking a deeper dive into the data. Are the right things built in at the high school level to support students’ transition to postsecondary? We lose kids somewhere between high school and finishing postsecondary education, and we want to better understand why that is and what we need to do to strengthen the system so more of our high school students finish a certificate program, a degree program and go on for further education.
Q. Will your work involve educators and administrators at the high school level?
Principals, superintendents and guidance counselors are part of the equation. So as one example, do we have the right counseling components to help students identify the right next match for them? Are we helping students make a well-informed decision about the next step where they are likely to be successful?
Q. Where will the committee focus its efforts in terms of K-12 education?
Teacher effectiveness, the achievement gap and parent and community engagement are the three main pieces that we will continue to work on and even increase our focus on.
Q. An achievement gap study group has been formed?
Yes. It will meet four times and make a report in early January. That group is a result of the work of another group that studied charter schools last year. That group decided that we were not in the position to take a position for or against charter schools, but what they did say was that there needs to be some urgency about closing the achievement gap in Kentucky and we need to identify recommendations to ensure that we do that.
Q. Will the report have specific recommendations?
I suspect they will be rather broad. This initial report will set us up for future work in areas related to the achievement gap. I see this as a key focus not just in this year but at least for a few years out.
Q. What about early childhood education?
It is a way we close the achievement gap before it ever starts and we want to see that investment continue into the next gubernatorial administration and even see it increased, if possible. It will be a focus of our work. In October, we had a seminar on early childhood education at the Governor’s Mansion and more than 100 people and five governors attended.
Q. You have also worked on tax and budget issues. That will be helpful as you serve on the work group for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System.
Yes, and we are concerned with the retirement system because it impacts confidence in our system, the attractiveness of the field to new teachers and current teachers’ confidence in the system. And any change we make could impact current retirees. We want to ensure that the system stays strong, attracts individuals to the teaching field and is set up so that highly effective teachers continue in the field for as long as they desire.
Q. Are you looking for new ways to get people involved in education?
Now that the committee is over 30 years old, some of our founding members are stepping down or moving on, so we do have this sense of moving into this next generation of policy leadership. We are asking ourselves, ‘How do we deeply engage a new generation in education policy and conversation?’ The last two years, we had regional meetings instead of the statewide meetings we had in the past so we could better engage people at the local level.
Q. Does technology figure into it?
We use Facebook and Twitter to amplify our message and connect with others. Another example are special reports by the Prichard Committee called Perspectives. We have been using the hashtag #KYStands for Kentucky Stands for teachers in the classroom or Kentucky standards and their impact in the classroom. And we don’t want to forget old-school, face-to-face engagement in our communities.
Q. Speaking of the next generation, what kinds of results are you seeing from the Student Voice Team?
They are invigorating and reinvigorating people around the idea that students can and should be a voice in their own education, and we need to invite them in and allow them into the conversation. During the last legislative session, they worked on a bill that would allow a student to serve on the superintendent search committee. Unfortunately, it failed. Now they are looking at ways students can be part of the conversation about school governance issues. They also did focus groups with students to better understand the challenges as they move from high school to postsecondary. They produced a policy report – the Trip Wires Report – and identified three key barriers for students as they move from one system to the next. They have been doing presentations on that work.
Q. What issues will you discuss with legislators during the 2016 session?
We work with KEAT, the Kentucky Education Action Team, as does KSBA, and identify common areas of interest that we can work on. Those will be early childhood education, supporting the Department of Education’s request for funding to support assessments and career and technical education. Some things may also come out of our achievement gap study group that will provide pieces to work on with the legislature.
Q. Has the committee worked on career and technical education in the past?
No. But under the new accountability model, we measure students based on readiness for both college and career, so career and technical education has increased in importance. We believe that both college and career readiness are important, and they support one another. So the opportunity for a student to be in a high-quality career and technical education program benefits not only their readiness for the workforce but also their college readiness. It is applied learning, it is deeper learning. So our thought is career and technical programs should be academically rigorous and our academic programs should have an applied component. In career and technical education, the opportunity for students to apply the book learning from a classroom setting that is relevant and up to date for the workforce is the best of both worlds. When career and technical education teachers can reinforce what is happening in the academic classrooms, we get a level of deeper learning that students will really benefit from.
Q. Are there teaching models that the Prichard Committee wants to spotlight?
Yes, and that is a point behind our Perspectives special reports. Under the new accountability system and with the new standards, we are seeing teachers in different disciplines work with one another to deliver content that is deeper and more connected to other areas in the school building. For example, a fifth-grade teacher is using the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in her social studies classroom so those students are getting the reading content as well as the social studies content.
Q. Those special reports have an important and continuing role?
Yes, we want to provide illustrations of high-quality teaching and learning, and we do hope to continue to highlight models that are working well. Those models include the use of new standards at a deep level, the use of the teacher effectiveness system to ensure teachers are continually improving their practice, and appropriate use of assessment and measurement in classroom.
Q. In closing, are there other points you’d like to make to our readers?
Positive involvement in education conversations at the community level is critical to our success. I believe local boards of education can come together with their superintendents to provide that vision and that positive focus on student achievement. I place a lot of value on local boards of education to move their communities forward.
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