Special to the Daily News
One of the state’s highly regarded educators took part in an educational summit hosted by Superintendent Dr. Rita Cook and members of the Middlesboro Independent Board of Education. Community visioning, “The Road to the Top” was the theme for the summit.
The program facilitator was Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee, a not-for-profit advocacy group for excellence in education. The Prichard Committee was formed in 1983 and has been instrumental in substantial gains in education quality for the state.
The foundation speaks for progress in education, while working with legislators, governors and education officials, as well as local parents and citizens. They advocate for improved education for all Kentuckians.
Silberman has led two school districts to prominence in the state. He has been named the state Superintendent of the Year twice by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators and once by the Kentucky School Boards Association. Most recently, Silberman was among the four finalists for the National Superintendent of the Year award.
According to Cook, under Silberman’s leadership, the student academic achievement soared in the Daviess County Public Schools and then also in the Fayette County Public School District. Silberman’s tenure in both districts was marked by a commitment to transparency and openness with the public, fiscal responsibility and tremendous community efforts to redesign education.
Cook said Silberman expressed excitement at being asked to join her board of education to look at ways to move the school district forward.
Silberman said, “It takes a really strong leader to step out there and say I’m going to put it all on the table for the kids so that we can move forward as a community and as a school district. In my experience as Superintendent in Daviess and Fayette County, we did the same thing and I saw the benefits firsthand.”
“What Dr. Cook is doing here is creating a critical mass of leaders to come together for the benefit of the kids and that’s what excites me about it,” he said. “I know what can come out of this and I believe from what I have seen in my short time being here and meeting with some of the leaders that this will happen.”
Silberman says the end result will be moving the Middlesboro school district into the top of Kentucky and beyond and making sure the kids are competitive nationally and internationally as a whole.
Cook says education summit participants, including educators and community leaders, examined where the district is now and how to get Middlesboro to become a top district in Kentucky and beyond.
The participants were presented with several sets of statistics which included graduation rates.
Only two states, both located in the south, have smaller graduation percentage rates than Kentucky, Cook says.
“Teacher salaries in Kentucky average nearly one-third less than the national average and, nationwide, 39 states pay their teachers higher average salaries than Kentucky,” she said. “This explains why many Kentucky trained teachers go to other states and why many of the best teachers go to richer sections of the state.”
After the group discussed major impact points, participants then worked in smaller groups reviewing data before rejoining as a larger group to discuss “Where do we go from here, and how do we get there?”
Board of Education Member Kelly Shoffner said, “I think to have the community involved in creating a tag line or concept for our system and pushing that out to the public and to have the community to come up with that is huge.”
“This is an outstanding forum,” said Middlesboro Mayor Bill Kelley. “Anytime we can do something to help our youth, that’s probably the biggest responsibility any of us have. That’s what I always advise, ‘lets take a hard look now and build for the future.’”
State Rep. Rick Nelson said Silberman is “one of the more outstanding educators in the state. He has broken down this particular seminar so that is is fairly easy to grasp what he is talking about in order to improve schools. It has been very informative.”
Cook said she wants to “establish a coalition of people to come together and make decisions and help us redesign our school system so that our children can be in the top district in the state and we can make sure we guarantee our children have successful lives.”