Kentucky State University hosted a historic panel discussion with four of the most prominent figures in education and workforce development in the Commonwealth of Kentucky – all African-American males – on the topic of accelerating academic performance and success.

Dr. Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE); Derrick K. Ramsey, Kentucky Secretary of Education and Workforce Development; Dr. Wayne D. Lewis Jr., Kentucky Commissioner of Education; and Kentucky State University President Dr. M. Christopher Brown II served as panelists.

“When you look at this stage, this is history in the making,” Renee Shaw, managing producer with Kentucky Educational Television (KET) and event moderator, said. “This is the first time in Kentucky history that we’ve had top educational leaders of color.”

The conversation focused on access to education, equitable opportunities and producing graduates who can fill the workforce present and future needs.

Lewis said he would continue to advocate for strategic funding increases in the P-12 education system.

“There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that funding matters,” Lewis said. “What gets lost in the conversation is that increased funding alone will not come close to addressing inequities and deficiencies in the system. Reexamining how we conduct education is as important as strategic funding.”

Thompson agreed.

“Teachers matter in and out of the classroom,” Thompson said. “We need to create an education system that will allow teachers to enter the classroom early, their freshman year, to know if they’re suited for the field. We need teachers to understand cultural competency and focus on equity.”

President Brown agreed, adding an idea he’d like to see the Commonwealth invest in.

“I would really like to see the Commonwealth invest in a high-achieving teacher recruitment program,” President Brown said. “Recruit them into the teaching profession using a revenue neutral system, a forgivable loan. Create a state-level version of Teach for America.”

Ramsey discussed Kentucky’s recent record economic development growth and the need to have a prepared workforce. Ramsey cited the current and projected number of open jobs in the Commonwealth.

“Currently here in the Commonwealth we have 117,000 open jobs,” Ramsey said. “As we move forward in the next five years, that number could be as high as 350,000 or 400,000. Go out another five years, that number could be as high as 700,000.”

The need to provide training beyond the high school level is apparent, Ramsey said.

“Not everybody believes they can go to college or postsecondary,” Thompson said. “Not everyone should go, but everyone should have the chance to make that decision. We have 100,000 plus jobs we need to get filled and we need to prepare for jobs that don’t exist yet.”

Lewis said he, Thompson, Ramsey and President Brown are all connected through statute and legislation, but they are also each closely connected.

“We actually all really like each other,” Lewis said. “Those relationships we have give us the opportunity to move forward on this agenda on closing gaps, increasing achievement and gainful employment. It gives us the opportunity to move like never before. Even in this intense political time, we find ways to seize opportunity at hand to move forward for the sake of children and the Commonwealth.”

Click here to view video of Together We Can | The Convening in its entirety.