A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NKY Champions for Education Summit brings leaders together to discuss past successes, future goals

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The Northern Kentucky Education Council hosted the 2017 Champions for Education Summit Wednesday at Northern Kentucky University.

Karen J. Pittman, president and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment, was the keynote speaker for the NKY Champions for Education Summit (photos by Mark Hansel).

It has been 10 years since the region’s last education summit and many things about the way children learn and are taught have changed. The morning session featured speakers that discussed the way in which several factors interconnect to help children succeed, or create barriers to achievement.

Karen J. Pittman, president and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment and the event’s keynote speaker, said it takes more than just a change in the curriculum to help students succeed.

“If you’ve got young people you are working with and have hit that wall and not had the success of getting over it and not built that confidence and sense of agency, just offering new content isn’t going to be enough,” Pittman said. “We’re going to really have to figure out how to create context for learning in which they, very intentionally, are given opportunities to get over the wall. That may mean you have to back up, that may mean you have to pace things differently, but that’s just a really important message for us to have.”

Pittman, a respected sociologist and leader in youth development, said the idea of developmental practice is not an add-on, it has to be baked into the things that educators are doing.

The summit organizers sought engagement from thought leaders in three sectors – education, business and the community –with the belief that the power to accelerate progress requires a buy-in from all of them.

Polly Lusk Page, (r) executive director of the NKYEC, Dr. James Votruba (L), president emeritus n NKU, and Emcee and Summit Chair Dan Cahill, of HORAN Associates, listen to a presentation at the Champions for Education Summit.

“To maximize success for each and every one of our youth we know that education is not the sole responsibility of educators, nor is it the sole responsibility of parents,” said Polly Lusk Page, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Education Council (NKYEC). “In Northern Kentucky we maintain the belief that it is the power of all of us working together.”

The NKYEC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on the alignment of education initiatives in Northern Kentucky. The Council serves as the catalyst for collaboration, change and progress toward regional educational goals in Boone, Campbell, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, Owen and Pendleton counties.

Page said the goal of the summit is to not only recognize what needs to be done going forward, but also what has been accomplished.

“We want to bring everyone back together in the room, because all of these folks have really helped grow our work here in the region and it’s time to honor the progress that we’ve made, but ask what we need to do going forward,” Page said. “How can we bring a little more precision to our practice and how can we really ensure that every one of our youth, not only has opportunity and access, but that they are also engaged?”

Page and NKU Interim President Gerard St. Amand joined Karen Finan of the Northern Kentucky Alliance in welcoming the guests to the summit.

Finan said the connection to education and economic development efforts are critical right now.

“As we come together and assess what this community needs, it’s important that everyone is engaged and also has that lens of regional growth in mind,” Finan said.

Dr. James Votruba, president emeritus at NKU, said the summit is a great opportunity for the region to come together in a workplace environment.

“We’re on a great glide path right now to being very successful, not only locally, but regionally and nationally, and this is a great step forward,” Votruba said. “It’s like building a pyramid, you have to have those basic blocks in place and it’s been a long time in coming to that realization. The thing about Northern Kentucky is that we work within the sectors, we don’t create a lot of barriers, but there are barriers that are historically out there and we’re starting to bring those down.”

Randy Poe, superintendent of Boone County Schools, explains the meaning behind the summit theme, “We Can, if…

Randy Poe, superintendent of Boone County Schools, said educators need to challenge the status quo, but that can be difficult in a rapidly changing education and workforce landscape.

“How do we think innovatively, how do we make timely decisions for the future when we don’t even know what the future looks like?” Poe said. “What we have to do, is we have to listen to the student voice and let them tell us where that future is taking us. We need to grow our students’ capabilities, we don’t need to confine them.”

A crowd of more than 300 participated in the summit, which included a series of learning sessions focused on the theme, “We Can, if…”

Poe said the goal of the summit is to think about what achievements are possible and how educators can make those things happen. In essence, moving from ‘what if,” thinking to a “can, if” thought process.

“Today you are going to be challenged in those different sessions… to come up with solutions,” Poe said. “We can’t let time, money and resources be a constraint – can’t let that federal budget be a constraint. We need to create an abundance of resources we don’t have through partnerships that we can create.”

Dr. Lynne Saddler, district director of health for the Northern Kentucky Independent Health District, spoke about health equity, poverty and the impact those and other factors can have on a child’s ability to learn.

Participants in the morning session of the 2017 Champions for Education Summit at NKU.

Learning session topics included connecting students with employers, making STEAM education real and supporting the whole child. There was also a session focused on an issue that has increasingly become a barrier to education addressing the heroin epidemic with our youth.

The afternoon session included presentations from national and regional experts, including St. Elizabeth Healthcare CEO Garren Colvin, Boone County Judge/Executive Gary Moore and Kurt Reiber of the Freestore Foodbank.

Nancy Grayson of Horizon Community Funds of NKY conducted an interview with the experts and an audience Q and A and Karen Cheser of the Fort Thomas Independent School District hosted an audience participation segment.

The wide range of speakers and learning session topics demonstrated how many factors, from poor health and food insecurity, to life in a household of addiction or a family income below the poverty level can impact a child’s ability to succeed in the classroom. They also helped provide potential solutions and identify the tools, in and out of the classroom, that can put students on the right path to educational and ultimately, career success.

For more information on the Northern Kentucky Education Council, click here.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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