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New State Education Commissioner Begins Work

From Kentucky Public Radio's Tony McVeighKentucky’s new Commissioner of Education is on the job.Listen NowLast month, after a nationwide search, the Kentucky Board of Education hired 2009 North Carolina Superintendent of the Year, Terry Holliday, to be the commonwealth’s new Commissioner of Education. Holliday’s now on the job and has attended his first meeting of the school board since his hiring. He says in the last few weeks, he’s been spending a lot of time on the phone.

“I’ve talked with representatives from school-based councils, KESA, KEA, KASA, KSBA, Prichard Committee, Southern Association and many more alphabet groups!” said Holliday, to board laughter.Holliday says he’s also been talking with former commissioners, reading education blogs and receiving lots of emails.“What I found is a sense of pride about education in the commonwealth, a strong desire to refocus our education system and very friendly, supportive and hardworking people,” said Holliday. “I’ve learned many things about what is expected of the Department of Education, the commissioner and the education system in Kentucky.”Holliday, who’s been awarded a four-year contract at $225,000 a year, says he’s looking forward to traveling the commonwealth in coming weeks and visiting local school districts.“I haven’t looked exactly at my schedule, but I know I’ll be getting close by around,” said Holliday. “I’m trying to visit with the previous interim commissioner, Elaine Farris in Clark County. I’ll be talking to Stu Silberman over in Fayette County. And I’ll be getting out quickly as I can.""I’m meeting with co-ops, superintendent co-ops," he continued. "I asked Lisa there to set me up some meetings with editorial boards, to try to get out and meet with newspaper staff, too. And if you want me on the radio, just give me a call.”For now, Holliday is living in a two-bedroom apartment in a Frankfort hotel, but says he and his wife will soon go house hunting. He wants to live close to work, so likely won’t be making any long commutes. State school board member David Karem of Louisville says Holliday is off to a smooth start and making a good impression.“The new commissioner’s a guy that will sell well across the state of Kentucky,” Karem told Kentucky Public Radio. “I really think he will be received at every corner as a guy that really can be helpful.”Seconding that is State School Board Chairman Joe Brothers, who’s very impressed with Holliday.“He’s already been in contact, it seems like with half the people in the state already,” said Brothers. “But, collaboration. And that’s what he’s doing. He’s getting people’s input and positioning himself to be aware of the needs of people and the students of Kentucky and get ready to move us forward.”After welcoming Holliday to Frankfort, the school board elected Brothers to a third, one-year term as chairman. What’s he hope to accomplish in his next term?“I want to stay out of the commissioner’s way and let him take Senate Bill 1 and move us forward in an accelerated basis to helping kids,” said Brothers.Senate Bill 1, approved by lawmakers in the 2009 regular session, is the first major revision of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. The measure replaces the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS, with a nationally standardized test allowing for comparisons with school performance in other states. It also allows individual student performance to be tracked from year to year. Holliday will be overseeing its implementation, as well as addressing the state’s high dropout rate, and working to reduce the need for remedial courses for at least 50% of high school seniors headed to college.

Rick Howlett is host of WFPL's weekly talk show, "In Conversation." Email Rick at rhowlett@lpm.org.