icon_educationMy wife – a gourmet chef herself – is a big fan of the Food Channel.  I don’t pay much attention to the chef demonstrations that use seaweed and tofu but occasionally there is a Bobby Flay or Guy Fieri being innovative burger-meisters.  Now that catches my attention.

Well, I saw two top chefs in a different venue on Tuesday — Dr. Leon Mooneyhan, CEO of the Ohio Valley Education Cooperative (OVEC) and Dr. Terri Cox-Cruey, the superintendent of Kenton County Schools.  Those two educational leaders became top chefs and made delicious burgers from a sacred cow.

Dr. Mooneyhan who is arguably the leading K-12 reform voice in the Commonwealth, has launched the “Kentucky Leads the Nation” Initiative.  I am honored to be part of that initiative in which a cadre of leaders around public education in Kentucky visits a series of school systems that exemplify innovation and restructuring of the fundamental processes that guide schoolhouses.  We have looked at a number of intriguing efforts underway but, from my perspective, today’s focus was the boldest endeavor I have seen in a Kentucky school system for a long time. Part of the credit goes to Dr. Mooneyhan who had the courage to challenge THE sacred cow that dominates politically correct thinking amongst the education elite – namely, that every high school graduate should go to college. Instead, Dr. Mooneyhan made a burger of that sacred cow and had the guts to suggest that college is absolutely the right choice for many graduates but that quality career paths are an equally appropriate choice for many other high school graduates.  In other words, instead of counting college degrees alone, we need to be looking at where high school graduates are career-wise about six years after their senior prom.

If Dr. Mooneyhan had the moxie to give honor to technical and career pathways, it was Dr. Cox-Cruey and her team that showed the “Lead the Nation” participants how to do it.  And does Kenton County do it!  A series of Academies of Innovation and Technology is the mechanism to give students real and authentic career options and the results are overwhelming during the relatively brief implementation time.

My first hint of Dr. Cox-Cruey’s excellence around this issue came when I walked into the meeting room.  High school student after high school student came up to me; thanked me for coming; and, then absolutely was ebullient over his or her experience.  Maybe it was auto tech or infomatics or media arts.  Every young person described an environment of personalization, rigor and relevance.  And the more I listened to Dr. Cox-Cruey, the more I think I understand what makes these academies tick – an unrelenting focus on the cognitive and non-cognitive developmental needs of adolescents.

Kenton County is an example to be touted.  Kenton County Schools have turned career readiness into an attractive and compelling option for every student, instead of a small subset not considered to be “college material”.  The elements of those academies are worth noting — top-notch facilities; teaching positions that carry prestige; real community engagement that aligns regional economic development with school programming; attention to details; and an obsession with the big picture.

Thanks to Dr. Mooneyhan for his always prescient leadership – and having the credibility to challenge conventional wisdom.  And thanks for Dr. Cox-Cruey.  She has moved the idea of preparing people for their role in a changing and complex global economy from rhetoric to reality for the students she serves.  Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri had better watch out.  Leon and Terri know how to take sacred cows and turn them into tantalizing burgers.