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Education Commissioner Johnny Key on Moving Arkansas Forward in Learning

3 min read

The Arkansas Board of Education approved former Sen. Johnny Key as the Arkansas Department of Education commissioner on March 25.

Before being named education commissioner, Key was associate vice president for university relations at the University of Arkansas System, a position he had held since August 2014. Key began his career in public service in 1997 when he was elected to the Baxter County Quorum Court. He served three terms in the state House of Representatives, followed by a term in the state Senate. While in the Senate, Key was chairman of a number of committees, including the Senate Education Committee.

Key graduated from Gurdon High School and received a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering in 1991 from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

What are the next steps being taken by the state Education Department to implement the Forward Arkansas initiative, which seeks to make Arkansas a national leader in education?

The Forward Arkansas report is a call to action, not just for the Arkansas Department of Education, but for our communities. While ADE is using the report to guide our strategic planning efforts, we recognize that this initiative will not succeed as a “top-down” process. The transformation envisioned by Forward requires communities to embrace the concepts and tailor plans that best fit those communities. We stand ready to support and assist these communities and the Forward implementation committee in this effort.

How is the Education Department ensuring that Arkansas parents will be fully heard as the agency revises the state’s math and English/language arts standards, what had been known as the Common Core State Standards?

We are using a variety of methods to provide transparency during the standards revision process. The ADE website has a general survey and content-specific surveys, as well as a dedicated email address that parents and educators can use to submit opinions. Survey results and email feedback will be reviewed and provided to the standards review committees. The work sessions of the committees are open to the public for observation, and we have partnered with AETN to live-stream the sessions.

What’s the proper role of the private sector in public education?

The private sector represents a significant source of education funding, and it has a key role in informing educators and policymakers about the expectations of student success in the modern economy. Gov. Hutchinson’s focus on including businesses, public education and higher education at the regional level in economic development activities points to the importance of the private sector as a partner in all levels of education.

How has your background as the operator of child care centers, a university administrator and state legislator prepared you to head the Education Department?

As an engineer in the corporate world, I learned the importance of strategic thinking and teamwork. My experience in child care gave me a clear picture of how the regulatory role of government impacts business operations, and I weigh that experience when making decisions of a regulatory nature that affect schools. The policy knowledge and history of the Lake View case that I acquired during my legislative career have been invaluable, and my time with the University of Arkansas System helped me gain a better understanding of the interactions between K-12 and higher education. While all of those points are important and extremely helpful in this role, they will not define success of this agency. The cumulative effect of each step of my career path has helped me learn to recognize what I don’t know, and to get the right people with the right knowledge on the team, doing the right things at the right time.

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