Neon Native Shines Light on Education in Appalachia

Executive Director of KVEC Focuses on Accomplishments

Dr. Jeff Hawkins grew up in Neon, KY, a small Appalachian town in the eastern part of the state, just a few miles from the Virginia border. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the  Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative  (KVEC), which is a collection of 22 rural school districts that make up the eastern part of the state.

Drone in the Appalachian mountainsKVEC serves more than 50,000 students and 3,000 educators who are living, teaching and learning in a region that is experiencing a Renaissance in educational opportunities and outcomes. The region has begun the process of diversifying an economy that has been solely based on the extraction of natural resources, like timber, coal, and natural gas, for over 100 years.

The changes are coming at a rapid pace, and they are transforming the lives of students and community members. And an important job of KVEC is to get the word out about all the positive changes that are happening.

“A good portion of the work we do is to help people in our schools and our communities realize what a good job they are doing,” he says. “We are able to demonstrate that through evidence on test scores, attendance, and graduation rates."

“Our commitment is really not to focus on what we do not have but to focus on what we do have. And what we know we have is a very committed population of folks who have the incredible perseverance to work through the challenges that exist.”

The region has a long history of oral storytelling, and KVEC is continuing that tradition, although in a digital fashion. “Five years ago we created a place-based social learning network online,” he says. “It's www.theholler.org. Some folks may not know what a 'holler' is, but where we live, a holler is a very narrow valley usually with one way in and one way out.

“It's a place. But it's an online platform where kids can come together, where we can share powerful and compelling stories, and where people can have conversations. We archive material that teachers have developed and that's one way for us to be able to tell the story that's unique to us. And because it's place-based, that really resonates with the community and lets them know that the work that is underway here is really important and critical.”

The work Jeff and everyone involved in KVEC is doing is creating powerful, positive changes in this Appalachian region. I’m looking forward to keeping up with the progress in the future.

About Jeff Hawkins

Jeff HawkinsDr. Jeff Hawkins is the Executive Director at the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative serving twenty-two school districts in eastern Kentucky. Through his leadership, KVEC has been recognized as one of the highest performing educational service agencies in the country and has been awarded three significant USDE awards within the last five years: an Investing in Innovation Award, a Project Prevent Award and a coveted Race to the Top – District Award that led to the development of the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative.

The Cooperative is a member of the national Future Ready Initiative, was identified by the congressionally authorized Digital Promise organization as one of six national Education Innovation Clusters, was awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant and this year received a W.K. Kellogg Foundation award to launch a nationally recognized project to increase student achievement and community prosperity in eastern Kentucky.

Hawkins is a former teacher, coach, administrator, Artist in Education and Kentucky Distinguished Educator. He serves on several state and national advisory committees and has represented rural educators at the White House on multiple occasions. Hawkins is the co-author of the Perpetuating Excellence in Teaching, Leadership and Learning Framework, was the founding director of the Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute and was instrumental in the development of the Appalachian Innovation Collaborative that brings P-20 educators together with state/local government officials, business, local citizens, and multiple stakeholders to focus on positive systems to improve the rural Appalachian Edu-conomy.

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