The Crisis in Black Education: 2017 Black History Month Theme

When you think of a crisis, you probably think of a natural disaster, active shooter or some other sudden event. The truth is, most crises are not sudden. The majority have been smoldering for some time and finally erupt. Such is the case for the achievement gap in education. It’s now become a full blown crisis. That’s why the Study of African American Life and History has deemed “The Crisis in Black Education” the national theme for Black History Month this year.

Experts have studied the issue. It’s been the topic of numerous scholarly articles, and there have been a number of initiatives aimed at closing the achievement gap. There are pockets of success around the country, but to date, there’s no national fix for this challenge.

Despite the challenge, African-American families are big believers in education. They always have been. They know education is the key to achieving the American dream, and they want to make sure their children have the opportunity to live their dreams.

The role of KCTCS is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Community colleges were founded on the concept of social justice and providing all Americans an affordable and accessible education. Over the years, under-represented populations have enjoyed increased access to postsecondary education, largely through the doors of community and technical colleges.

Does that mean we have all the answers? Obviously not. What it does mean, is that we are committed to doing everything we can to build upon historic as well as current efforts to satisfy a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge. Closing the achievement gap is at the top of our priority list. This begins with bringing more people of color through our doors, but that’s just the first step. We also must make sure these students leave us with a credential that allows them to have a career that pays family-sustaining wages.

This is so important to us that we’ve made it part of our six-year strategic plan. We know the best way to empower people is through education, and that a good job is the first step to economic prosperity.

Acting to ensure the benefits of education are available to African-American students is an important opportunity facing us right now.  It deserves our focus until it is resolved.


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Our focus for 2017

In 1992, James Carville helped develop Bill Clinton’s campaign strategies. One of those strategies people still talk about was written on a sticky note: The economy, stupid. This was a note Carville wrote to himself to remind him the team was not focused on one of the most important issues voters were concerned about.

As I’ve thought about 2017 and our priorities, I’m borrowing Carville’s idea and writing a note to myself – It’s about jobs, stupid! Jobs, jobs and more jobs are going unfilled because Kentucky’s workforce does not match employers’ needs. This year, even more emphasis will be on close partnerships between local employers and the community colleges in their area. Our job of educating the workforce has become more important as employers in Kentucky and all around the U.S. seek highly-trained workers.

In Kentucky, we have thousands of people working in low wage jobs who need enhanced skills. We also have thousands who are unemployed. The new Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program provides a good opportunity for those folks, as well as recent high school graduates, to train quickly and improve their earning opportunities. In addition, we will continue our work with local employers to make sure our curriculum is aligned with the top five job sectors outlined in the scholarship program.

That doesn’t mean we’ll take our eyes off of transfer programs. The majority of our students still come to us for transfer. However, I believe focusing on jobs still applies when thinking of transfer students. Here’s why. No matter if we’re preparing someone to enter the workforce quickly or to transfer to a four-year partner, the end goal is for the student to get a top notch education and become employed. Whether that employment is as a teacher, an accountant, a welder or in advanced manufacturing. As Carville knew, it’s all about the economy. For the state’s economy to advance, we must do what we can to help employers. For us, it’s about educating people for jobs.

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Happy Holidays!

It’s that time of year. The time for decorating, shopping, baking, and of course, your Facebook year in review video! Like most people, I love this time of year. It’s a time for family and faith traditions, childhood memories and the joy of giving. Along with all of this, the approaching new year usually makes us feel optimistic. I have to tell you, I am optimistic and excited about all the possibilities before us in 2017.

We can be proud of all we accomplished as a system and at each of our colleges in 2016. It’s a privilege to help thousands of students take the next step to a better life and fulfilling career. Many thanks to all of our faculty and staff for their dedication to our students.

As always, we’ll be focused in 2017 on student access and success. Our nation’s community colleges were founded on the concept of social justice and providing all Americans an affordable and accessible education. Since 2000, KCTCS has served nearly 835,000 Kentuckians. It’s our mission, and we all embrace it.

As we prepare for our end of year closing, I wish everyone a happy holiday season and joyous new year filled with great things!

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Let’s Slow Down and Give Thanks

Although retailers like to go straight from Halloween to Christmas, I think it’s important that we don’t lose Thanksgiving along the way. This holiday has a long tradition of family meals and family time that are too important to forget about or rush through.

This year especially, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on all we have to be thankful for. The tumultuous election season has taken a toll on everyone. Whether you’re happy or angry about the outcome, it’s important not to lose sight of the many blessings we have as Americans. Because of those who came before us, we have the right to vote, the right to free speech and many other rights we sometimes take for granted.

We also sometimes take our loved ones for granted. Let’s slow down our busy lives long enough to relax and enjoy our family and friends. If you’re like me, you never seem to have enough time to do that, and there’s no better way to reconnect than over a nice Thanksgiving meal.

At this time of Thanksgiving, I also want everyone to know I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with such a professional group of people, many of whom I’m proud to call friends. I’m also thankful for thousands of students across the Commonwealth who’ve chosen to make a KCTCS college a part of their lives.

So let’s not allow the retailers of the world to tell us what season it is. Go ahead and proudly put that inflatable turkey in your yard. You can easily switch it out for Santa in a few days.

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

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One day of recognition is not enough

Our country’s veterans have served honorably and bravely to ensure our freedoms. I cannot imagine what they’ve sacrificed for us, or what they’ve endured on our behalf. These quiet heroes of our armed services deserve our thanks and recognition for their service.

This week our colleges have events planned throughout the state to honor our veteran students and those in the community. They’re sponsoring numerous events on campus, sending thank you notes to veterans, donating funds raised from a chili cook-off to a local veterans’ group and participating in parades.

I’m so proud to see our colleges supporting and honoring veterans. Our veteran students are an important part of our campuses. They have wisdom and maturity that comes with the honor and sacrifice of military service. They are a wonderful support system for each other and leaders and mentors to other students.

Friday, we celebrate Veterans Day. It’s only one day of recognition for those who spent countless days in war fighting for our freedoms, keeping the peace or serving at a military base somewhere far from home and family. We owe these brave men and women and their families so much, and one day of recognition could never be enough. On behalf of all KCTCS faculty, staff and students, I’m proud to say: Thank you for your service!

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A Salute to Kentucky’s Manufacturers

As Manufacturing Month is winding down, I wanted to make sure our industry partners know how much we appreciate them. Our colleges have key partnerships with manufacturers around the state to help our students train for local jobs. Or as Greg Higdon, president of the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers, likes to say, preparing our graduates for “careers” in manufacturing. As industry needs change, we continue to look for better ways to align our program curriculum to meet their training needs.

It’s no secret that Kentucky employers have too many good jobs that go unfilled because they can’t find qualified workers. This is especially true in the manufacturing field. That’s where programs like the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education, or KY FAME, come in. KY FAME is a partnership of regional manufacturers whose purpose is to implement dual-track, apprenticeship-style training that will create a pipeline of highly skilled workers. Our colleges partner with manufacturers to offer the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program, which has become popular because it leads to employment in good paying careers in manufacturing.

Manufacturing today is very different than what our parents and grandparents experienced. Technology has revolutionized manufacturing. Through programs like KY FAME, we’re showing today’s generation they can use their technology skills while working in a clean environment, earning a good salary without a four-year degree.

 Most jobs in Kentucky require some type of postsecondary credential, and the job market is ripe for those who’ve obtained them. The good news is KCTCS offers more than 200 programs that can be completed in less than four months, many of which lead to jobs that pay up to $60,000. Help us spread the word about this great opportunity!

 Many thanks to our manufacturing partners. We appreciate all you do for our colleges and the communities they serve.

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It’s on Us

Sexual assault and harassment are tough topics to discuss, but it’s important to talk about these issues and keep them in the forefront. The KCTCS faculty, staff and I are charged with making sure that every student attending our colleges feels safe, valued and welcome. We have no tolerance for any type of assault, abuse or bullying.

We are just wrapping up our annual employee training that addresses these topics and have now begun training for our students. This online training program is related to the It’s On Us campaign to stop sexual assault on college campuses. We provide training to employees and students to make sure they not only understand what is considered assault, but also how to respond if it happens.

The Violence Against Women Act has improved our nation’s response to domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Talking openly about these issues and providing training are two very important ways we can continue to reduce these horrendous acts.

It’s on all of us to recognize this societal problem and do our part to stop it.

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Kudos to our firefighters

This is Fire Prevention Week and it made me realize we don’t give our firefighters the kudos they deserve often enough. They bravely run toward a fire when the rest of us are running away. These heroes save many lives each year, including family pets.

It might surprise you to learn that in the last five years through our Kentucky Fire Commission, KCTCS trained more than 90 percent of the state’s firefighters. This is a featured program for us and one I’m extremely proud of.

Last week was a sad time for firefighters as they held their 16th Annual Fallen Firefighter Memorial. Two courageous men who lost their lives helping others were honored at an event in Frankfort.

In an effort to prevent loss of life, Fire Prevention Week is focused on making sure everyone has working smoke detectors in their homes. This year’s theme is, “Don’t wait. Check the date. Replace smoke alarms every 10 years!” Research shows many people don’t know how old their smoke alarms are and don’t know how often they need to be replaced. Check the back of yours for the date of manufacture. If it’s been more than 10 years, then replace your device.

Let’s make sure no more lives are lost because of smoke alarms that don’t work. And let’s show our appreciation for firefighters, not just this week, but every week.

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If You Don’t Register, You Can’t Vote

If you ask most people about the first time they voted, they’ll probably have vivid memories about it. They can tell you how they felt when they walked into the voting booth, who the candidates were and who they voted for. They also can recall the many emotions they experienced when they completed the process. If you aren’t a registered voter, isn’t it time to take part in this cherished right and privilege we Americans have?

If you’re not registered, our colleges are making it easy for you to. Our student government associations (SGA) across the state are sponsoring voter registration drives. They’ve put up posters on campus, are doing special events and setting up information tables to get the word out about how to register and helping people register online.

We’ve been fortunate to have Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes visit several of our campuses to promote voter registration as well. We appreciate her taking time to come to our campuses, meet with our students and explain the importance of voting.

As of September 29, 225 people have registered to vote during the SGA voter registration drive. But time is running out to register to vote in the November 8 general election.  Voter registration applications have to be submitted by 4 p.m. October 11.

So, if you’re not registered to vote, now’s the time. Register at one of our colleges or online and become part of a powerful group of that will choose America’s next leaders.

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KCTCS Focusing on Safety Procedures This Month

September is National Preparedness Month, and we are testing our safety procedures to make sure we’re ready if an emergency occurs. This week all of our colleges will test their Safety Alert Notification Process (SNAP), which sends text, email and phone messages to students and staff in times of an emergency. We’ll also be testing our website procedures for various crisis notifications.

Although there are many types of emergencies that can happen, including severe weather, fires and bomb threats, the one crisis many people immediately think of is a gunman on campus. Throughout the system, we’ve planned and prepared for these horrible events. Earlier this month, West Kentucky Community and Technical College, in partnership with local first responders, conducted an active shooter drill. Many of our colleges have completed this or other types of mock disaster drills. These exercises help us know what works well and find weaknesses in our plan so we can correct them.

Although we can’t plan for every scenario, we prepare for as much as we can. Some people don’t think a crisis could occur on our campuses, and I hope that’s true. But we must plan and prepare because it’s essential that we all know how to react in various types of emergencies.

The safety of our students and employees is our top priority, so we continue to remind people if they see something, say something. It takes all of us to make sure our campuses are safe and secure, not just during National Preparedness Month, but always.

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