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Kentucky education commissioner wants ‘revival’ of schools and the teaching profession

A man in a suit speaks from a podium. The words Kentucky Department of Education are on the podium.
Jess Clark
Kentucky's next Commissioner of Education Robbie Fletcher speaks with reporters.

Kentucky’s next commissioner of education Robbie Fletcher said he wants to reform school accountability measures, like testing, and change the conversation about teaching.

Kentucky’s soon-to-be Commissioner of Education Robbie Fletcher is calling for a “revival” of Kentucky’s education system and an accountability system that is more helpful to schools.

The Martin County native was confirmed by Kentucky’s mostly conservative state Senate. He takes the helm after his predecessor clashed with the legislature over the rights of LGBTQ+ students.

“When I walk out of this role … I'd like to walk out with an accountability system that everyone believes in,” Fletcher told reporters at a news conference Monday in Frankfort.

School accountability measures are ratings schools get based on their students’ standardized test scores and other criteria, such as graduation rates. Schools and districts are rated on a color-coded dashboard, with schools rated red (lowest), orange, yellow, green or blue (highest).

Fletcher said under the current system, schools and teachers don’t get results until months later when students have usually moved onto the next grade.

“What type of accountability system will make a day-to-day impact on instruction? Also, what type of accountability system will take … into account what the local community values?” he said.

States’ accountability systems are all different, but they are bound by a set of federal laws that require standardized testing and a rating system for schools based on certain factors.

Kentucky’s accountability hasn’t been the same from one year to the next since at least 2018, either due to changes in the test, the rating system design, or both.

Fletcher will take office on July 1. He is still serving as superintendent of Lawrence County Schools, a district of roughly 2,500 students.

Fletcher is married to a physician and is the father of three. His oldest child is in medical school at the University of Kentucky. His youngest is a high school junior in Lawrence County. Fletcher’s middle child died in 2022 at age 18 after he “lost a battle with mental health,” according to Fletcher.

In addition to changing the accountability system, Fletcher said he wanted to improve communication between the Kentucky Department of Education and local school districts and be present on the campuses of the Kentucky School for the Deaf and the Kentucky School for the Blind. As commissioner, Fletcher is considered the superintendent of both those state-run schools.

Asked how he planned to address the dire teacher and personnel shortage hampering districts across the state, Fletcher said he planned to advocate for better pay and do a better job highlighting the positive side of education.

“I think we need a revival when it comes to teachers,” Fletcher said. Fletcher said he’s seen a decline in respect for the teaching profession nationwide.

“And I think it's because we're not doing a good job of telling our own story … We want everyone to feel great about the school systems that we offer,” he said.

That could take the form of a marketing campaign.

The soon-to-be commissioner also said he would push for more resources in Kentucky schools.

“Our state Legislature made a huge investment in education,” Fletcher said, referring to the Legislature’s two-year budget that includes modest increases in overall education spending, but no mandated raises.

“It may be the best education budget I've seen in my time. But I will always ask for more resources. What better investment can we have than in our children? That includes things like teacher salaries,” he said. He also said he would push for universal pre-K.

While Fletcher’s predecessor Jason Glass sparred with conservative Republican lawmakers over LGBTQ+ student rights and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, Fletcher appeared to walk a thin line on hot-button issues.

“As far as how I approach DEI is I'm going to love all students,” Fletcher said.

Asked his thoughts whether staff should use the correct pronouns for transgender students, Fletcher equivocated.

“I do,” he said. Later adding that to him, “the pronouns are not nearly as important, as ‘Am I showing that student respect and love?’”

Fletcher was more clear about his stance on programs that send public money to private schools, often called “school choice” initiatives.

The educator said he planned to vote against a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow taxpayer funds to flow to private, religious and charter schools.

“Personally, I will vote against it because I do not believe that public funds should go to private organizations,” he said.

“But on the other hand, too, I'm a public servant. If the people of the commonwealth vote for this, it will be my job as commissioner to help the state Legislature, to help school systems, to help KDE to implement that in the best way possible.”

That constitutional amendment will appear before voters on the November ballot.

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Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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