It’s not every day the richest man in the world visits eastern Kentucky.
Bill Gates and his wife Melinda were spotted eating at Texas Roadhouse in Pikeville and snapped cell phone photos of Gates enjoying his meal went viral.
But why was Gates interested in coming here? Gates has actually shown interest in investing in Kentucky educational matters for a few years now. On Wednesday, he visited Betsy Layne High School in Floyd County to observe students and teachers, according to local news outlets.
In 2011, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s $1 million commitment to the Kentucky Department of Education through 2013 to support the introduction of “tough new common core content standards” for math and English in public schools.
The standards were key in implementing a bill passed through that year’s session for wide-ranging education reform that went into effect during the 2011-2012 school year.
About a dozen school districts launched a pilot program for the standards to help teachers prepare. Not only is Gates named by Forbes Magazine this year as the richest man in the world, the Microsoft founder is also considered to be one of the most intelligent beings.
So, when he comes to your area, it’s worth noting.
According to local reports, Betsy Layne High School officials prepared for an expected visit of “foundation leadership” from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for months, but never expected they would be face-to-face with the founders.
The high school principal, Cassandra Akers, told WYMT-TV the couple talked to Floyd County Superintendent Henry Webb and her about how core academic standards have rolled down to the schools from the state level.
According to Forbes, Gates is 60 years old and has a net worth of more than $79 billion.
His concern about educational standards in Appalachia can be taken in two ways: as a motivational boost to get to work on improvements, but also as a moment to reflect on how things got so bad that Gates felt the need to give the area a hand up.
Low educational expectations, and results, is partly to blame for an uneducated workforce and widespread unemployment in the region.
Education by adults and children needs to be taken more seriously if the region is going to succeed because data indicates there are, in fact, jobs out there and available. The real problem seems to be filling these positions with highly-skilled and qualified workers.
Layoffs and change in economic climates is underway throughout the whole state. With an educated workforce, those who lose their jobs may be able to transition into new careers quicker and easier. Let Gates’ visit be a reminder that our educational performance is being watched by some of the brightest eyes in the world. It’s time to step up to the challenge and take standards more seriously.