iLead Academy is the first school of its type in the state and has garnered its share of visitors this year. The face asking the questions this time belonged to Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Stephen Pruitt.
Tim Hendrick/The News-Democrat
iLead Academy students from left, Ethan Lyle, Blake Jaggers and Dawson Allen, all from Henry County, explain to Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Stephen Pruitt the academic program they are completing during the first year of the program.
Pruitt was hired as the sixth commissioner of education in September 2015 and started on the job Oct. 16.
Pruitt migrated straight to the students as they prepared to share their work.
One of the first questions he asked was what an average day was like for a student.
One student talked about the ride a bus from their school district to the academy and working on their online classes that cover the basic core requirements or one of the assigned projects.
The students are accountable for their progress, and it took most of them time to settle into a very different routine.
The students have invited community leaders in to visit several times during the school year to showcase the work they are doing. They prepared presentation boards explaining their projects. Several groups showed Pruitt the presentation boards for their reverse engineering project. They expanded the discussion and showed the winning catapult from a fall project.
Trimble County freshman Brody Fugate demonstrated the robot his team designed for the 2016 Vex Worlds, a high school competition held this year in Louisville.
Henry County freshman Dawson Allen showed Pruitt the inventor software they have been using to design projects.
The iLead students are redesigning the mini-golf course at General Butler State Resort Park.
Gallatin County freshman Aubrey New spoke of the difficult transition she had. The first few months were horrible as everything was new and accepting the changes, she said. Now, she said everything is going well and a team of students have been preparing materials for the incoming students so they are better prepared for the changes and help the transition to be smoother.
Pruitt also toured the Carroll County Area Technology Center where he visited with instructors and students in the informatics, carpentry, welding, industrial maintenance, automotive and health services programs.
The informatics class consists mostly of iLead students. During Pruitt’s visit, two teams presented projects on traffic flow. One group presented a GIS real-time program for consumers to use and the other group presented a database that contained information to be used by planning groups and developers.
Pruitt told ATC Principal Tony Jury that this was the first ATC he has visited in the state.
After the tours and visits Pruitt talked about his impressions of the iLead Academy and the area technology center.
Pruitt said iLead was providing opportunities for the students to expand and grow.
“What was cool to me was when I listened to the teachers talk about how apprehensive or very introverted the students were when they first started at the academy,” Pruitt said. “Then today they were explaining their work to the commissioner of education without batting an eye.
“… Clearly iLead is meeting a set of needs for those kids that might not have been met in a more traditional setting. The same students could be bored and struggle in school or not even be noticed which, to me, is the height of concern.”
To Pruitt, it is very exciting to see students taking the future in their own hands. “These students see a career ahead of them; they don’t just see a graduation,” Pruitt said. “I saw of number of students today that either have a certification or moving towards a certification leading towards a career.
“It is fantastic that there are kids who are 14, 15, 16, or 17 years old realizing there is life after high school, that they are thinking about life after high school and designing a curriculum for themselves that will move them toward that career. This is school done in a more appropriate way for our kids.”
Also on Pruitt’s agenda for the day was a town hall meeting in Northern Kentucky. He has hosted a series of town halls across the state because of the new federal law concerning the elementary and secondary education act called Every Student Succeeds Act.
The act basically gives the authority back to the states on measuring school success or accountability.
“If we get that chance I thought it would be a shame not to get back in the field and listen to what Kentuckians value,” Pruitt said.
The Department of Education would develop an accountability system that reflects Kentucky values.
“We are not going to back off accountability,” he said. “Look at the 25 years of growth that Kentucky has seen, especially the last six years because of accountability. What is different is we will get to look at accountability based on what we as Kentuckians value.”
Pruitt said the reoccurring theme from the town halls has been making sure that children are the focus. Another theme has been looking at education as a whole, not just focusing on math and reading. Science, social studies, performing and visual arts, health and PE, foreign languages, and career technical education are included in the accountability.
“We have a chance to really revamp the system,” Pruitt said.
Look at the success of five districts coming together and collaborate to create iLead, he said. The districts are not competing against each other. He thinks there is a lot of completion in between districts and there needs to be more collaboration to benefit the students and the districts.
Pruitt said Gov. Matt Bevin had until Wednesday evening to sign or veto the biennial state budget. The budget that came out of conference was OK for us, he said. There was not any gain, but we held steady and that is very important for all of our districts.