Skip to main
University-wide Navigation

Initial Seeds

The Center for Next Generation Leadership is the product of deep roots and some initial steps that seeded our current model. Kentucky has, for generations, prioritized "next generation" learning with the most significant efforts taking place in the 1980's and 1990's in the lead-up and passage of the Kentucky Educational Reform Act of 1990 after the landmark Rose v. Council for Better Education ruling. The legacy of the educational leaders during that time, and countless others that advanced learning in the Commonwealth, still resonates with us today in our work at the Center. 

The Center itself was initially seeded in the Fall of 2009. In Danville local superintendents, including Carmen Coleman who would later work for the Center, were hosting a community forum looking to cast a new vision for their districts. This coincided with the arrival at the UK College of Education of a new Dean, Mary John O'Hair, who attended that evening with Justin Bathon, an early career professor at the time. Dean O'Hair had previously built the K-20 Center at the University of Oklahoma and arrived in her new role with a mandate from then President Lee Todd of UK to integrate the College of Education into a leadership role in advancing education in Kentucky. These early seeds led to conversations and steps to establish an Academy where leaders of schools and districts might work together with UK to improve schools.  

UK Blue Thin Divider

Early Questions

In the initial days, the questions that animated the effort that would go on to become Next Gen centered on a re-conceptualization of school itself. At the community forum in Danville, for instance, Dr. Coleman showed the "Did You Know 2.0" video produced by Scott McLeod. That video asks whether our schools are preparing kids for their futures. Further, how might the experience of school change to let them build the broader skills they would need to face their complex, global, digital futures? The conversation that resulted from these questions was powerful both that night in Danville and over the coming months. 

Following these questions and Dr. O'Hair's prior experience, during the next year Linda France was hired to lead the effort to operate a year-long Academy. Linda was a former superintendent and associate commissioner at KDE under Gene Wilhoit who helped to implement the KERA reforms. Linda's initial task was to build a model where the College of Education could work with schools to explore those questions further. Linda called the professional development series ... the Next Gen Leadership Academy and the first group of school partners joined for a Fall 2010 start. We planned and implemented 7 days over the course of the year with the support and participation of local schools. That initial year provided not only our now Flagship Academy model, but also our name, Next Gen. 

Carmen as Superintendent in 2009 in Danville.

Carmen as Superintendent in 2009 in Danville

UK Blue Thin Divider

From Founding Director Linda France in 2019: “As Next Gen has grown and expanded over the last 9 years, the vision for a P20 collaborative network connecting higher education's scholarly research to applications in P12 districts, schools, and classrooms remains the same.  As with implementing most worthy dreams, getting started is one of the hardest parts second only to keeping the focus on the goals as progress is made along the way.  The actual design for Next Gen began with lots of how-to ideas tossed on to a whiteboard with daily additions and erasers but with a never-ending passion for leading change.  Key to bringing the vision to life was creating a Next Gen design team made up of university professors Justin Bathon, Tom Guskey, Joan Mazur, Gerry Swan, and quickly adding P12 innovative leaders--Janet Granada, Buddy Berry, Travis Hamby, Carmen Coleman, and Lu Young.  At the end of every design team meeting, a host of ideas, critical feedback, suggestions, and questions had to be considered, prioritized, shaped, and turned into workable plans. Many key voices, including student-voice, have been added to the design of Next Gen over the years.  I could not be more thrilled about the opportunity Next Gen offers to change leaders who realize the need to redesign schools and the opportunity to hold hands and stick together in doing so!  


Founding Director Linda France

Founding Director Linda France

UK Blue Thin Divider

The early years of Next Gen were a lot of fun and flew by as we worked with schools to reconsider long existing practices. We were definitely learning as we went, as were our School District partners. We visited schools outside Kentucky together, learned from national voices at Academy days, shared our work with each other across the state, and began to innovate and iterate initial ideas. Many of the legacies of those early days of innovation alongside the Next Gen Academy are present still today. 

More importantly, the Academy grew as more districts beyond the Bluegrass region engaged the work. Each year, a dozen or more districts would participate and the strength in numbers added to the courage shown by educational leaders across the state. Questions were slowly becoming implementation models and those successful models together were slowly laying the foundation for a movement. 

Map of Kentucky Districts served by Next Gen
UK Blue Thin Divider

A Network and Movement Emerges

The initial successes in small districts, such as Eminence Independent, or startup schools, such as STEAM in Lexington, emerged quickly. But, larger structures required greater persistence and the real strength of Next Gen began to build over time as our public school districts began to implement Next Gen practices more broadly. As the map above shows, district-level investments in Next Gen began happening all across Kentucky. Each successive year brought more strength and expertise grew across the state. A network was forming that continues to underpin the Center's work still today.

In the video below, Justin shares a little on how that growth unfolded and the impact it had on the learning experience for children at a Creative Mornings event in Lexington, KY.



UK Blue Thin Divider

A Sustainable Center

Over time, Next Gen tightened our focus and gained clarity on the why, when, what, and how educational change. As we gained clarity and experience, we added to our efforts. We:

  • developed the Next Gen 9 as core operating principles. 
  • transitioned leaders from Linda France to Carmen Colemen to Lu Young.
  • partnered with districts and cooperatives for custom professional development. 
  • added staff that grew the Center's expertise and mission. 
  • added programs beyond the Academy that grew our impact.
  • formally partnered with the Kentucky Department of Education as an Intermediary.
  • transitioned from a "lab" to a formal Center reporting to the College Dean's office.
  • took up residence in our own facility on UK's campus. 

But, we have not wavered from our initial questions, legacy, and mission. 

What do the young people of Kentucky need from their schools to prepare them for their future and how might we as a Center at the University of Kentucky help schools deliver on that promise? 

Lu, Justin, and Carmen
UK Blue Thin Divider
Next Gen Team