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KSBA News Article

In Conversation With ... Jamie Bowling

Jamie Bowling

Kentucky School Advocate
June 2021

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

Jamie Bowling was appointed by Gov. Andy Beshear to the state board of education in March to fill the seat held by her husband Mike, who passed away in February. Bowling is a former Middlesboro Independent board of education member and former member of KSBA’s board of directors. She served on her local school board for 16 years

Q. You were appointed to the Kentucky Board of Education to fill your husband Mike’s seat after he died earlier this year. What would Mike think about you being a KBE member?

A. 
It’s funny because when he was asked to be on the board, he turned to me and said, “You're the one that’s qualified. I’m going to tell them that you’ll serve.” I said, “No, I'm just not ready to dive into something heavy and serious right now.” We have five grandchildren and I’m thoroughly immersed in grandparenthood. I said, “You need to do this.” He agreed to but really wanted me to do it. So he is very happy in heaven right now.

Q. As he served on the state board, did Mike turn to you about education issues because you had so much experience in education?

A. 
He has always turned to me for questions on education. Not that I'm like an expert or anything, but I have been involved, and I always had an opinion. I lobbied him hard when he was in the legislature over educational issues, so the tables kind of turned and he was coming to me with questions. Another funny fact is Mike had no computer abilities at all. I felt like a de-facto member because when he was online for meetings, I would gather things to work on and be within shouting distance [in case he had computer problems].

Q. In addition to filling your husband’s role on the KBE, you’ve said that you want to be a voice for students in southeastern Kentucky. Why is it important for students from that region to have a voice on the state board?

A. 
I want to be an advocate for all Kentucky students. But southeastern Kentucky is a unique area on the border of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Most people think if eastern Kentucky is represented, we’re represented. But we really aren’t. It takes us longer to get to real eastern Kentucky than it does to get to Lexington. We are in a little pocket where we don’t always have a voice. We are economically challenged like eastern Kentucky and other parts of the state, and we have more than our fair share of students who are on free- or reduced-priced lunch and have other challenges.

Q. You served on Middlesboro Independent’s school board for 16 years, including 12 as chairwoman. Why did you want to serve on your local school board?

A. 
I started off as a homeroom mother when our children were in school and chaired school fundraisers and was PTO president for several years. I loved what I was doing, but I wanted to be involved in more decision-making and policy making so I decided to run for school board. This was in the pre-KERA era.

Q. Can you tell us about your district’s greatest accomplishments during the time you served on the board?  

A. 
With KERA, they formed family resource centers, and we were one of the first districts to get our center off the ground and running. The center is so important because of the barriers that our kids face right before they walk into the school door in the morning – coming to school hungry or without a winter coat or in shoes that are too big or too small. The center takes care of those immediate needs so that they are not an impediment to learning. Our board made sure the center had what it needed to get its job done. We also had a major capital building program. Our schools were not air-conditioned. We passed the utility tax – and it was controversial to get our community to buy in to a utility tax. We used it to air-condition our schools and we built two new school libraries, two new gymnasiums and a fine arts center to house all of our music and art classes. We also developed a partnership with Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, and that partnership has grown and grown.

Q. How will your experience at the local level on the Middlesboro board help you in this new role on the state board?

A.
I bring a different perspective than a lot of board members. Everyone brings their own qualities to the board, but I’ve seen the barriers that our children struggle with here and right now the drug issues that all small and large communities are facing. I understand challenges from the rural standpoint. Seeing our kids struggle makes me realize how important it is to motivate our students to function successfully in a global economy. We need to instill in them critical thinking skills, a global perspective and a respect for core values.

Q. During this legislative session, the unique concerns of independent districts came to the forefront as a part of public school choice discussions and open enrollment. How do you think the state board of education could help address unique concerns that face independent boards differently than county boards?

Jamie Bowling talks to kindergarten students at Middlesboro (Independent) Elementary School during the students’ independent practice in the school media center. Bowling has now served at three meetings as a Kentucky Board of Education member.  (Photo by Frank Shelton for KDE)

 

A. 
I hope that it will because I think small community schools are so important. When we start losing those, it provides fewer opportunities for kids. And I hope that the state school board will be aggressive in advocating for independent districts. I feel strongly about trying to support our independent districts because they are a community’s identity and I hate to see that lost.

Q. You successfully ran for public office before your husband did. He served in the state legislature for seven years; now your son serves in the General Assembly. Why is public service important to your family?

A. 
Without a doubt, we feel strongly about contributing whatever resources we have to our communities. No one in our families had ever run for anything before Mike and I did. I had a strong interest in education. So that door kind of opened for me. Mike was a political science major and loved government, policy-making and politics. So it made sense for him to run. And then, I think, our children saw our example. Our son Adam is now our state representative, and our other son Blake is city attorney for Middlesboro, which is not an elected position. He also served on city council.

Q. What do you think the biggest challenge facing public education in Kentucky is today?

A. 
The greatest obstacle is funding, which is why it’s so important to lobby our legislators. Funding is what pays for proper teacher training, teacher pay, and support in the classroom to assist students and much more. Our teachers are being expected to wear a lot of hats. We need a lot of support for our students so that teachers can teach. We also are fighting for a student population from private schools; we have to meet the needs of our students if we’re going to stop that flow to private schools.

And we have to be able to help our kids think on a global level if we’re going to be successful. We need to tailor our curriculum to serve our kids in the future, which is basically STEM, because that’s where all the jobs are going.

Q. What advice would you give local school board members about how to become advocates for their districts at the state level?

A.
It is so important to lobby legislators to make sure your voice is heard, whether that be through phone calls, by making an appointment to go to their office, sending a letter. I think they do listen to what their constituents are saying. It’s important to have a good relationship with legislators so you can lobby for what your district needs.

Q. Have you gotten many calls yet from people who are concerned and want to talk about issues now that you are on the state board?

A. 
We are still pretty locked down here and I think people aren’t fully engaged in life yet. But in the next school year, as we get back to normal and people start worrying about the problems that we worried about before the pandemic, I’m going to be an open board member. Anybody’s welcome to discuss anything with me. Of course, I have no power except when I convene with the board but I’m always happy to hear information and the pass information on. I want to be a voice for my community. I’d like to see all of our schools be a community where all children feel loved, respected and encouraged to reach their full potential.

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