Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis on Monday called the Owensboro Public Schools district a "Kentucky treasure."

The district is one of four in the commonwealth that will be highlighted in Lewis' 2019 State of Education in the Commonwealth address that is slated to take place at 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 3 in Frankfort.

Four districts will be given the Innovation & Excellence in Educational Leadership Award. The other three districts are Meade County Schools for its Meade County ATC, Laurel County Schools for its Laurel County Center for Innovation, and the Ohio Valley Education Cooperative for its iLEAD program.

Lewis said he wanted to call attention to Kentucky schools and districts that are stretching the boundaries and showing good results in the process.

"So Owensboro Innovation Academy is absolutely one of those places," he said. "I believe it's one of the most innovative high school ideas in the state. It took incredible leadership on the part of the board and the district's administration to move in that direction."

He said OIA has proven itself not just to be a great idea, but that it also has staying power and has results to back it up now.

Lewis and a team from KDE visited the school district Nov. 6 and met with representatives from a number of programs, including OIA and the new Innovation Middle School. One program in particular that struck a positive chord for him was Western Academy, which takes place at the H.L. Neblett Center for young men of color enrolled in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades. Lewis

Lewis was invited to speak with the young men and said he appreciated that invitation, as he had the opportunity "to share with them and talk with them a little bit about my background."

"(And I) hopefully said something to encourage them to move forward and continue to work hard," he said. "So that was a really special part of my visit a couple of weeks ago."

Constant, OPS chief academic officer, said the KDE officials seemed to really like the programs that are taking place within the district.

"They have been watching the progress at OIA closely, and now we are able to present some convincing data that helps people understand that it is a model that works," he said.

Constant said with the addition of the Owensboro Innovation Middle School, the district is on a good trajectory toward innovation programs that will touch kindergarten through 12th grade.

"All levels. That's our goal," he said.

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315.

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