Voice Recognition

KSBA News Article

In Conversation With ... Ronnie Nolan

Ronnie Nolan

Kentucky School Advocate
August 2022

In Conversation With features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate.

Ronnie Nolan is the director of the Kentucky Educational Collaborative for State Agency Children (KECSAC) . Here, he talks about KECSAC’s history, its role in educating state agency children and a new expanded partnership with KSBA.

Q. The organization you lead, the Kentucky Educational Collaborative for State Agency Children (KECSAC), might not be familiar to some. First, could you define “state agency children?”    

State agency children are defined in KRS 158.135. There are several categories: children in the care or custody of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) who are placed or financed into programs with a state contract; children in the care or custody of the Department for Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and who are served in a program operated by or contracted through DJJ; students with significant disabilities and the newest addition, children served in a DJJ day treatment program, and have been referred to that program through the local Family Accountability, Intervention and Response (FAIR) team.

Q. Could you give some examples to illustrate these categories?

About 65% of state agency children fall under CHFS. They are in the system primarily because of abuse or neglect. Typically removed from their parental home and placed into a safer environment. They are not all foster children; not all of them meet definition of state agency children. They must be in the custody or committed to the cabinet and served by a program that has a contract with the cabinet. Places like Bellewood in Jefferson County or the Methodist Home for Children in Jessamine County. The cabinet also serves kids who are placed into alcohol and drug treatment programs, mental health and psychiatric care centers like Peace Hospital in Louisville. About 34% of our kids are with DJJ. Those students are served in programs like youth development centers, youth detention centers and day treatment programs. The youth development and youth detention centers are residential programs and most are lockdown facilities. Those are for kids who have been adjudicated for a crime. We also serve children in day treatment programs, which partner with DJJ to provide community-based services as an alternative to residential.

Q. Tell us about the agency’s history and its role in educating these Kentucky children.

KECSAC was created by the legislature in 1992 as a result of KERA (Kentucky Education Reform Act). When education reform rolled out, we realized a large number of students being served in nontraditional educational settings needed additional educational supports. So the General Assembly, in a move that was ahead of the time in terms of how to develop educational services for children in state care, created a collaborative network. We talk about collaboration all the time now, but in 1992, it was not common. The agencies that come together are the Department of Education, DJJ, CHFS, Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, and local school districts.

Q. What is the network’s role?

It ensures that children served in programs contracted through or operated by the Commonwealth have an equitable educational experience. We understand equitable doesn’t mean equal. For example, our students have a 210-day school calendar; most students in traditional programs have 177 days. Our class size is limited by statute to no more than 10 students per teacher. If there’s a teacher’s aide, there can be up to 15 students. These students are often academically behind when they enter the state system. To provide them with appropriate educational services often means services beyond what a traditional student might receive.  

Q. How many KECSAC programs are there in Kentucky?

There are 76 programs in 50 school districts serving about 6,500 students a year, post-COVID. That’s significantly down from pre-COVID. For example, during COVID, with students through DJJ, the Commonwealth made a concerted effort to provide those kids with community-based services so their needs could be met in a home environment.

Q. KSBA has expanded its partnership with KECSAC, and your organization has moved in the KSBA office in Frankfort. Tell us about this new partnership.

We have partnered with KSBA for 20 years, primarily around professional development including co-sponsorship of events as well as planning, execution and presenting educational topics related to state agency children, dropout prevention or other topics. This expanded partnership allows us to work together in more ways. How we support each other and what it looks like can evolve over time.

DJJ was looking for a strategic partner to help implement KECSAC. So KSBA is the fiscal agent for our agency through a contract with the Commonwealth to provide the oversight of the services. They hired our staff to provide those services through the contract that they have with the Commonwealth.

Q. Why is this partnership a good fit?
Kim Caudell, assistant director of Special Education for Franklin County Schools, Ronnie Nolan, director of KECSAC, Vicki Reed, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), Chuck Fletcher, Franklin County Schools board member and Sherri Clusky, KECSAC associate director, tour a DJJ facility. (Photo provided)


KSBA was at the top of my list because of its commitment to providing high-quality educational services to students. And the way that they do that is through a collaborative partnership with those locally elected school board members.

Q. Since KECSAC was created, its scope of work has expanded several times. Why?

When KECSAC was created, the definition of state agency child was narrower. For one, DJJ didn’t exist, so about five years later, when it was created, those students were added. Most recently, we expanded day treatment programs to include referrals from FAIR teams. FAIR teams were relatively new, designed to provide a community-based response for students who need additional supports. Teams are a partnership between the Administrative Office of the Courts, local school districts, and community partners to identify students who need additional supports and then provide opportunities for them to get supports without going into a residential placement. What was missing is that those folks could not place students in day treatment programs contracted or operated by DJJ. So the legislation was expanded so that those students could be referred. The most recent change involves the general high school equivalency diploma. When Kentucky raised the compulsory attendance age to 18, many of our students were pursuing a high school equivalency diploma and were no longer allowed to do that. We worked with the legislature in 2017 to expand that so our students could be dually enrolled in a diploma-seeking program in our local school districts and give our local school districts the opportunity to offer a high school equivalency diploma to those students who were 17 but behind academically. That was expanded this past year by HB 154, sponsored by Rep. DJ Johnson, to allow not just state agency children, but any child served in an alternative education program to participate in a high school equivalency diploma track.

Q. Can you talk about supports KECSAC provides to local districts and to teachers and staff who work with these children?

First, we provide supplemental funding to our school districts to help offset the cost of the extended school calendar and smaller classroom size. The General Assembly has provided an allocation annually for that supplemental funding. KECSAC and local districts have advocated for an increase for several years because of rising costs and increased student need, especially for more mental health and behavioral support. This year, State Rep. Jason Petrie and Sen. Chris McDaniel both provided record allocations in their budget proposals. As a result, we received a record allocation. By voting for it, legislators basically said we’re going to invest in our state’s most vulnerable students.

Q. What other supports does KECSAC provide?

A. We have a program improvement process with program improvement specialists, site visits and assessments of every program every year. We provide targeted technical assistance to help our programs and our local school districts improve services to our students. We provide professional development training for teachers and administrators who work with state agency children. We have a statewide summit annually, web-based trainings, in-person trainings and training for educators new to our programs. We also have a school administrators association that includes all identified administrators who serve state agency children. They meet twice a year. The most important thing we can do as an agency is to listen to the boots on the ground.

Print This Article
© 2024. KSBA. All Rights Reserved.