Kentucky School Advocate
By Allen Kennedy
(Note: These remarks are excerpted from and expanded upon by the author from his first address as KSBA president during the closing brunch of the 2015 KSBA Annual Conference.)
I want to first of all thank you for the opportunity to serve the kids of Kentucky, because I think there’s nothing more important than the future leaders of Kentucky.
As I speak this morning, I want to ask you to ponder this thought: What would your life have been like without mentoring, leadership or guidance as part of your education? Did you know that there are family members and young people in your community who see you as their role models and even as their mentors?
We never know who might be watching us, and that’s a serious thing to think about. I believe God has placed family and people like you in my path who have helped my life beyond measure, who have helped me to be able to accomplish the things that I’ve been able to accomplish during my time on this Earth.
While I had loving parents, my father suffered from alcoholism. One of the things that I felt I lost out on was his mentoring and leadership and guidance, especially for a free-spirited individual. I’m an action-oriented individual and that lack of guidance didn’t fill my needs. So I was constantly looking for that father figure, that role model, that mentor. And I found that in many of these folks (family – wife, daughter, sister, brother) sitting right down here today. Many people I’ve watched for many years – for example, a deacon in my church – who had no idea I was looking at them to see how to continuously improve my life.
Some of my fondest memories came from my teachers back in grade school. I remember Ms. Mary Storm, my first-grade teacher. She taught me about reading, writing and arithmetic, but she also taught me about being kind to other people, having good manners, and the value of a smile.
In the second grade, Ms. Mary Roberts taught me a little history and geography, but more importantly, she taught me about discipline. Why was that important? Ms. Mary was the first and only one who gave me a whipping (laughs). Now, I’m your representative on the Education Professional Standards Board, so I know that’s a no-no today, but it happened in my day. She had a big old paddle with holes in it for effect. But as soon as it was over, she recessed the class, let the other kids go out to play, but said, “Allen, I need to talk to you.” So I went up with tears still in my eyes.
She said, “Son, I didn’t whip you because I was mad or to punish you. I whipped you to correct your behavior.” I’ve thought about that a million times. I’ve used that phrase when I was a human resources manager for a major aluminum company in my disciplinary process. It was an invaluable lesson that I learned in school from a mentor.
Jumping forward to the time I was about 15 years old, I was at my uncle’s house up around Fort Knox. He was a mentor. He was the one who, while I was visiting with him and his wife, I would go and “cry on his shoulder,” so to speak. You know, kids have bad days, too, and I was having a bad day. As I was pouring out my spirit to him, he said, “Son, let me tell you something. You can’t control where you live, what you eat or what you wear. You’re a young man. That’s up to the adults. But the thing that you can control in your life is how hard you work to accomplish the goals and objectives in your life.”
That was another major learning moment in my life from a guy who had a second-grade education who was self-made, going from being a cook in the Army to a building contractor. Those were words of wisdom that I’ve tried to live by. He was a major influence in my life, on me going back and becoming an electrician and going back to school and becoming a human resources manager.
From that very day, continuous improvement has been my goal. That’s my goal for KSBA, to continuously improve the product that you see every day. We’re going to need your help to do that.
I could go on and on about the influences others have had on my life, but the important part about this story is that leadership, mentorship and guidance don’t just happen in school. We have opportunities every day to affect and even change lives of the people we interact.
I’ve had many opportunities in my life. I’ve traveled to every state in the nation. I’ve talked to millions of people all over the world. I’ve gone to countries overseas on labor study tours representing thousands of steel workers in my labor days. The last two years, I had the opportunity to go to Finland and Canada on education tours – at my expense – because of continuous improvement and about what we can do to help the kids in Kentucky.
Why did I share this true story with you today? Because I am convinced mentoring programs are imperative to assist in advancing educational opportunities for kids who do not have proper guidance otherwise.
Andrew Carnegie, the famous industrialist and philanthropist, once said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision, the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”
I think we can do that. I think that all of these experiences I’ve had in my past are helping me in the present and will do so in the future. That’s my goal.
Did you know that one out of every four children in Kentucky lives in poverty, that Kentucky ranks 35th nationally in child well-being? There are many who have had the same issues that I had as a young boy, coming from a single-parent family. There are many of those kids who need you as a mentor, as a leader role model. There are others who are role models, but I’ll tell you, folks, they are looking at you every day. People are looking at us for leadership and for guidance.
Today there are about 678,000 students in Kentucky’s 1,223 schools with about 44,000 teachers. And there are about 867 local school board members. We’re outnumbered from that perspective but we can do major things, as Andrew Carnegie said, when we work together.
We’ve had great accomplishments, but we need to continuously improve. Some of those areas include closing the achievement gaps, improving our high school graduation rate and getting every kid to college and career readiness. That’s important because more than 60 percent of all new jobs will require some postsecondary education. We have so many opportunities to make a difference in the lives of students in Kentucky, preparing them to be leaders of tomorrow.
Helen Keller, blind and deaf from 19 months of age due to scarlet fever, once said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
We have to have vision. We have to have three things in that vision. We have to have confidence that we can do the work. We have to have conviction – a passion – to do that work. And we need to communicate, to stay focused on our goals and objectives. We need to talk about that among ourselves, to plan our strategies to go forward.
I want to thank you all for your unwavering support of KSBA. Our new executive director, Mike Armstrong, our board and our staff seek your input as we stay focused on serving you better.
We have a new but experienced government relations director, Hope McLaughlin, and an expanded governmental relations team with the addition of former Jefferson County board member and congressional aide Debbie Wesslund. Both are doing a great job addressing the legislative issues that affect schools in the 2015 General Assembly.
Kerri Schelling and our Board Team Development group – including our training cadre – are working on new training, including Web-based training, to introduce later this year.
There are a few goals I hope to have our organization focus on in the next two years as I serve as president. They include decentralized control of our school systems with more local control, even to the school level; early childhood education, because starting training early will pay dividends later; economic development through college and career readiness, including vocational education; improving our teacher development and training; and working with districts to develop a needs assessment to look at areas we can expand our services.
In closing, let me say this: Thank you again for your service to your schools and to your communities. You truly are ambassadors for kids. You are very much needed at that.
Thank you again for the opportunity to serve as president of KSBA. This is a wonderful organization that is focused on things that we need to do to help you to help the kids of Kentucky.
At the end of the day, my worth and value in this life will not be measured as an electrician, an HR manager, a board member of Hancock County Schools or as president of KSBA! I truly believe that my worth will be measured by the time I have spent in service to my Lord and when he says, “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” That’s my goal in life. And I can guarantee you that to my dying day I will never fail to try to continuously improve to help Kentucky kids and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.