by Heather Weston Bell, Leadership Louisville Class of 2013 –
It just so happens that the Leadership Louisville session on Education fell the week of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The tragedy was a stark reminder of the responsibility of schools to keep our kids safe. But, we all know it is not that easy. It is not just the school’s responsibility, but the community’s. Just as school safety is not just a JCPS issue, school success is not just a JCPS issue; it begins and ends with the community and with each of us.
As a class, we learned that 10% of the JCPS student body is homeless and 64% are on free or reduced lunch. While a school’s primary function is to educate, there are many obstacles to education that can be present during the school day. Superintendent Hargens commented that each school, on any given day, must address a sick child or the need for a meal, or even clean clothes.
Following small group discussions with the JCPS School Board, a visit to the schools, and presentations from Superintendent Hargens, U of L President James Ramsey, and JCTC Vice President Lisa Brosky, we heard the most transformational story from Maria Patterson from the Family Scholar House. There is a reason such buzz exists with FSH. They are changing lives, one parent at a time. Maria shared that her two boys’ lives are forever changed: their mother is not only the first in her family to graduate high school, but last week graduated with a Bachelors in Communications from the University of Louisville and is on her way to law school.
Maria’s story uplifted us, but honestly, the day uplifted us. All of our community’s educational partners are working for Maria’s story. While there is so much work to be done, there are wonderful success stories—one school and one student at a time.
As with all Leadership Louisville days, we gained more perspective on the inter-connectedness of the sectors in our community—the impact of education on workforce development, quality of life, necessary social service functions, jobs and tax revenue implications. The thread through the discussion was, “Success derives from leadership.” We must have strong dedicated leaders in Louisville Metro to reach benchmarks like 55,000 Degrees.
But, we don’t just need leaders. We need doers. We need active participants. We need each and every one of us – you, to get involved. This day left me inspired and motivated. I observed, too, a tone-shift among my classmates. At the close of the day, JCPS and the larger educational community of Louisville Metro had advocates that were charged to find a way to tap in and connect their business or volunteer time to the needs presented throughout the course of the day.
Get beyond the headlines and get involved. There is a place for each and every one of us in this conversation. And you might start it with an elementary school student. As Dr. Hargens suggested, ask a 1st or 2nd grader what year they will graduate. You might just be surprised to find out.