by Anne Henderson
“How can we make sure our new education reform law works?” In 1996, that was the question on the table. Kentucky had recently passed landmark legislation to adopt high standards for all kids and to provide ample supports, including Family Resource Centers and School Governance Councils, to help schools meet their goals.
The question, posed by Bob Sexton, director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, was urgent. In Bob’s memorable term, Kentucky was “in the nation’s educational basement,” barely above Mississippi.
Beverly Raimondo had an answer: Mount a program to prepare parent leaders to play a lead role in improving student achievement. And give it a prestigious name — The Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership (CIPL). The Pew Charitable Trusts signed on as a sponsor.
Bev made CIPL happen. Long before the Dual Capacity-Building Framework, Bev understood the power of developing collaborative relationships and integrating family engagement strategies throughout a school improvement plan. She knew that activities for families should help them see how the curriculum is aligned with high standards. She knew that parents learn through hands-on experience directly applied to their own interests and concerns.
To design the Institute, Bev assembled a formidable task force of educators, parent leaders, advocates, education organizations, and experts. She drove us hard! One tactic was posing key questions for us to solve. For example:
What strategies will reach low-income families – both African Americans in Louisville and poor Whites in Appalachia? Asking parents to attend with their friends as a school team, and getting the word out through trusted community organizations, drew a strong response.
How can we encourage parents to attend a weekend session when many had never stayed a night away from home? The sessions were held regionally, not far from home, and childcare stipends were provided.
What supports will parents need to design and carry out a project? Each region had a community support coordinator who mentored participants, and seed money was provided to cover costs.
CIPL was built on Bev’s firm conviction that parents want detailed information and serious ways to be involved in their children’s school. The hundreds of parents who turned out for CIPL, attending three weekend sessions, completing homework, and carrying our projects to expand their children’s opportunities, proved her right.
Bev had little patience with complainers. She saw that conversations changed when parents worked together and came to realize their power. Instead of griping, they planned how to make a difference. Every year, she told me, parents confided to her that the Institute had changed their lives.
Bev also had an eye for talent. The people she hired to facilitate the regional institutes and mentor the participants throughout their two-year commitment were outstanding: Tom Hiter, Carol Edelen, Lutricia Woods, and Nita Rudy, to name a few, carried out Bev’s vision with great resourcefulness.
Bev was the most firm, resolute, and determined person I ever had the pleasure to work with. She knew that NO was never a final answer, it was just a delaying tactic. In 2014, she got her final wish: the Governor gave his name to the program, now known as the Governor’s Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership.
By the way, how is Kentucky doing? In the 25 years since the Kentucky Education Reform Act, Kentucky has moved to well above the national average in reading and math. Mississippi is still well below the national average.
Bev, we miss you and we will never forget you. Your contributions to Kentucky education and the national dialogue on family engagement will endure.
Anne Henderson – Senior Fellow, Community Involvement Program, Annenberg Institute for School Reform; Vice Chair, NAFSCE Board of Directors