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Making a Difference: Opportunity Through Education

For more than 25 years, Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith has helped Kentuckians harness the power of education to improve their and their families’ lives.

A photographic portrait of Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith smiling in a red dress with blue curtains in the background.

It’s a calling she’s pursued in a variety of roles: from her early days as a Louisville elementary school teacher, to her leadership within the Kentucky Department of Education and the Jefferson County School District, and more recently as the president of the non-profit organization, National Center for Families Learning.

Among the constants she’s observed throughout her career, she says, is the vital role KET plays in ensuring that everyone in the Commonwealth has equitable access to the educational resources they need to thrive and succeed.

“Addressing the needs of people from all walks of life, both urban and rural, is one of the great challenges of any educational system,” Smith said. “KET has a long history of playing an instrumental role in Kentucky, eliminating the barriers to access and opportunity and ensuring that no one is left behind.”

She pointed to KET’s efforts in its early years transmitting classroom instruction over the airwaves to underserved schools across Kentucky. And she noted how, more recently, KET continues to support education in underserved regions, sponsoring family learning workshops and children’s camps in Louisville and Eastern Kentucky.

“That’s why KET is a household name in Kentucky—it’s been a trusted partner for as long as I can remember,” Smith said.

A video still from Fostering Early Literacy series showing Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith kneeling down to a child's level to show him something she is holding up.
A video still from Fostering Early Literacy

In fact, Smith said she still gets recognized by educators for a part she played in a KET professional development video series from the mid-1990s that showcased her work teaching reading skills to elementary school students.

“Everywhere I go, teachers will tell me they know they’ve seen me before,” Smith said with a laugh. “Which just goes to show the power of KET’s resources and how widely they’re used throughout the state.”

In 2021, Smith began her tenure with the National Center for Families Learning, a Louisville-based organization that seeks to combat poverty through education. One of the central ways in which families can break the poverty cycle, she said, is through reading and literacy programs that help parents and children learn together.

“One of the things I like most about KET is its focus on improving early literacy and reading skills, which is one of the main ways in which we can change the trajectory of people’s lives, particularly those who have fallen through the cracks of the education system,” Smith said. 

Last year, KET led the development of a “one-stop shop” for new parents to find early childhood development resources, the Let’s Learn Kentucky online hub (LetsLearnKY.org).

KET has a long history of playing an instrumental role in Kentucky, eliminating the barriers to access and opportunity and ensuring that no one is left behind.

Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith

And other KET initiatives, such as its annual Young Writer’s Contest, which encourages children to write their own original stories and poems, underscore the importance of parents and children learning together.

“These are the kinds of resources that really have made a difference not only in the lives of young people but also for the adults working at home with them,” Smith said. “They’re another example of how KET is continually responsive to learners’ needs in Kentucky, creating programs that engage young children and their families to develop reading and literacy skills that they’ll carry throughout their life.”