After the resignation of Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt last week, the Kentucky Board of Education named Wayne Lewis for the interim role.
In his first week on the job, Lewis gave an exclusive interview to The Bottom Line laying out his top priorities he hopes will help Kentucky move forward, stating his main focus will be on improving Kentucky’s education performance and preparing Kentucky students for success in the workplace.
Lewis explained the essential skills legislation, which was championed by the Kentucky Chamber and passed in this past legislative session as a key component to preparing students for careers. “These are the types of things that employers tell us day after day, week after week, that are critical for folks that they’re trying to recruit and retain in their places of business. We have to do a better job in Kentucky’s schools of ensuring that we are helping students to learn and master these skills so that they’re prepared for success in the workplace.”
Pointing toward another tool to help advance Kentucky’s education performance, Commissioner Lewis commended the legislature for passing public charter school legislation in 2017. He explained, “charter schools give us an additional tool in our toolbelt to be able to help to improve performance, particularly the performance of some groups of students that we’ve struggled with tremendously over the years.”
Though the General Assembly did not fund public charter schools in the 2018 session, Commissioner Lewis said “we are at the place now where charter schools exist in law, they have been created as a part of the public-school system in Kentucky, and I am asking senior leadership in the Department of Education to help me to explore what the possibilities could be for charter schools moving forward.”
Lewis stated one of his top priorities is strengthening career and technical education within the Department and around the state, saying “I think we’ve made some headway over the years in raising the stature in career and technical education in Kentucky, but quite honestly we still have a long way to go.”
Lewis said he is focused on raising proficiency rates, specifically in reading and mathematics. He commends Kentucky’s education reforms and improvements made in the early 1990s but says since then the progress has been stagnant and has created various achievement gaps. “Rather than being complacent, being content with where we are as a commonwealth, I believe it’s time now that we think about ways that we can trigger reform and increase performance in ways that we really haven’t seen since the early 1990’s.”
Though Kentucky’s high school graduation rates rank in the top five in the South and in the top 10 in the nation, the statistics “do not align with the success or lack of success that we see with our graduates both in post-secondary education and in the workforce.”
Of Kentucky high school graduates in 2011, less than one fourth went on to earn a type of post-secondary credential four years after graduation, Lewis stated. “We have to do a better job of preparing our kids to be successful, not just earning a diploma but ensuring that anybody that receives a Kentucky diploma is prepared for what comes next in their lives, whether that’s going on to a two-year program to a four-year program or going into a career.”
Lewis also touched on his hope to look at the Transition Readiness portion of the State’s Accountability System, a concept to help better prepare students for careers, pointing out “the role of area technology centers and district technology centers is critical in that, in helping to ensure that kids are getting skills that align with the jobs that are in Kentucky now, that are available in Kentucky now and the jobs of the future.”
Interim Commissioner Lewis is enthusiastic about his new role and the possibilities for his future as the Kentucky Education Commissioner. “Just over the past four days that I’ve been in the role, I think we’ve made some positive progress. We’re starting to move on some really key initiatives; we’re thinking about the role the Kentucky Department of Education plays in our state’s public education system. And I would be thrilled to have the opportunity to continue that work as the permanent Commissioner of Education.”
Click here to watch the full interview: