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Every year nearly 650,000 students pass through the halls of Kentucky’s public education system. Despite years of reform and a slow but steady rise from the bottom of the education pack, many of those students leave underprepared for life beyond high school.

It’s not from a lack of effort on the part of Kentucky students or educators. The two groups are confined to an education system that was originally designed over 120 years ago. It simply cannot keep up with a global economy, our broadening diversity and the vast technological upheaval we have experienced in the last 50 years.

It’s time for Innovation. We must reimagine the way we educate our students – to look beyond the four walls of a traditional classroom. All Kentucky students deserve a leading edge, progressive and responsive public education system that is fueled by a commitment to innovation.

Over the last few years, Transform Education Kentucky has been working with KyInnovators – people who believe in shaking up the system, people who believe our children deserve the best possible education we can give them, people who believe those children can’t afford to wait. We’d like to introduce you to a few of them.

ro-400Meet Rosalind “Ro” Koop.

Ro is a #KyInnovator and a Language Arts teacher at Woodland Middle School. She has worked with us since the beginning, as one of our first Common Assignment teachers and later as a part of the Next Generation Instructional Design (NGID) cohort. She’s a true teacher leader in every sense of the term.

What we love about Ro? Her drive to empower young women and to inspire them to become purpose-driven individuals. Like many teachers, she knows her job of educating students goes beyond that of a text book.

That’s why she created the program, Real Girls Stand Strong. The program teaches the power of self-esteem and confidence to 7th and 8th grade girls. While in the program, the girls learn the importance of respect (for themselves and others) and embracing their own unique qualities by creating projects that keep them actively involved in their school and the community. Real Girls Stand Strong not only teaches these young people powerful life lessons, but inspires and teaches those who witness it. They’re helping create a culture change, and that is inspiring and innovative on all levels.

untitled-design-3Meet Billy Harper. Billy is a #KyInnovator.

Billy is one of the founding board members of Transform Education Kentucky and president of Harper Industries, Inc. – a holding company with subsidiaries for mechanical and general contracting. His company has offices in Kentucky and Tennessee and job sites in more than 20 states across the country.

Decades ago, Billy recognized the gap in Kentucky’s workforce and the importance of education to a successful and meaningful life. So during his tenure as president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, he served as one of the business leaders to lobby for what was arguably Kentucky’s most important education reform – the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA). But he didn’t stop there. Billy has served on and chaired numerous boards for education non-profits at the local, state and national level, he’s helped major universities create degree programs in his field and traveled the state helping legislators, business leaders and communities understand that an educated workforce is a vital tool for a thriving economy.

All of those things make Billy a tireless public servant, but what makes him innovative is his ability to combine his two passions in life – education and driving Hot Rod race cars. That’s right! Billy is a professional driver on the National Hot Rod Association and International Hod Rod Association race car circuit and created the “Race for Education” program to improve attendance among middle school children. He also uses his race car to teach engineering at his local school’s career day. Business man, education advocate, husband and father. We should all be more like Billy.

untitled-design-2Meet Buddy Berry.

Buddy is a #KyInnovator, Transform Education Kentucky board member and the superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools (EIS) – one of the most innovative school districts in the Commonwealth.

When Buddy began working at EIS, they were facing a grim reality that many districts in Kentucky know too well; declining enrollment, budget issues, and less than inspiring student achievement statistics. So he did something unprecedented – he set out to design a next generation “dream school” rooted in personalized learning and centered around innovation and creativity.
We won’t drone on about the many, many reasons why and how this reinvigorated school model is working. You can read more about that for yourself herehere and here. But what we will tell you is that this school system’s success is largely due to Buddy and his team’s dedication and willingness to rethink the way they educate students. In Eminence, educators, students, parents, and community members all play a role in solving problems – none of which are too big to overcome.

Buddy and the Eminence Independent School district are a model for innovation and inspiration that we can all learn from. We encourage you to check out some of their work, which might inspire you to become a #KyInnovator in your own district.