Many of Eastern Kentucky’s’s prominent leaders gather last week at the Knott branch of Hazard Community and Technical College to unveil the Appalachian Teaching and Leadership Network.
Organizers says that more than 100 prominent leaders from the fields of education, business, and civics were in attendance for the event which was held on Friday, July 27, in Hindman. Floyd County Schools board member and physician Dr. Chandra Varia, of Martin, was one of those who attended the launch.
The Appalachian Teaching and Leadership Network (ATLN) is designed to foster a spirit of collaboration with the region’s education and business communities to help raise educational levels, while increasing and improving economic development in 13 counties in the Central Kentucky Coalfield.
Gene Wilhoit, a national leader in education and key architect of the movement toward a more rigorous and internationally competitive academic curriculum, was the keynote speaker on Friday.
Wilhoit, director of the Council of Chief State School Officers and former Kentucky Commissioner of Education, addressed the challenges in preparing college and workforce ready citizens in the 21st century, with a specific focus on rural and Appalachian communities.
“It is our responsibility to make sure every child who walks across the stage to get a high school diploma in Kentucky is prepared for the next level of education,” Wilhoit informed the audience. “We have to make sure they are college and career ready.”
The former Education Commissioner also encouraged educators to try to new things and embrace technology and the pivotal role it can play in a child’s success. He also told the crowd of the importance of what he called the Early Warning System in our schools. “We have to pay closer attention to students who have fallen behind academically.”
Wilhoit agreed to serve as Honorary Co-Chairman of the ATLN Advisory Committee along with Governor Paul Patton.
The service area for the network includes the 20 K-12 school districts , two P-16 Councils (Big Sandy and Kentucky River), two community college service areas (Big Sandy Community and Technical College and Hazard Community and Technical College). Elements of two regional universities (EKU and Morehead State) will also be affiliated with the organization as will two private institutions (Alice Lloyd College and the University of Pikeville). The Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) will serve as the fiscal agent for the initiative.
Officials say that the ATLN plans to work with all K-12 school districts in the region to significantly increase the percentage of students who graduate from college and are career ready. Colleges and universities will help the network develop a comprehensive plan that connects K-12 education to higher education, to workplace opportunities and economic development.
The program calls for leaders in business, industry, local and state government to also participate in the networks success, and to help involved communities by connecting business and organizations to classrooms.
Academic programming will be constructed to fulfill the needs of businesses while preparing students and communities for the global economy. It will also research and promote awareness of jobs and the necessary education and skills for the work.
Goals for the program and charted innovative strategies for raising educational levels and enhancing our region’s workforce were put in place by those in attendance.
“In Kentucky, it is our goal to make education a community value,” said Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Joseph U. Meyer, who also spoke briefly to regional leaders. “The success of our communities and the prosperity of the Commonwealth is dependent upon the education and skill of our workforce. In order to prepare our students for success in high-wage, high-demand careers, we must rally local support and collaboration among business, education, workforce and economic development leaders. I applaud the Appalachian Teaching and Leadership Network for making this effort and look forward to reaping the many benefits this project will produce.”
“Communication and marketing will be an important endeavor,” said Ron Daley, chairperson of the ATLN strategic planning workgroup. “We will create and implement a communication plan promoting the value of education and K-20 best practices in education in the region.”