Wednesday, September 15, 2010

After Sexton

A memorial service for Bob Sexton
Oct. 16, at 1:30 p.m.
at the Haggin Auditorium
Transylvania University

Today the Prichard Committee for Educational Excellence meets to begin a tough job: replacing Bob Sexton. It now falls to Chairman Sam Corbett and the Committee to find a successor to Sexton. This isn't going to be easy.

Is Kati Haycock looking to change jobs?

Members of the Committee undertaking the task include:
Sam Corbett, Louisville, Chair
Hilma Prather, Somerset, Vice-Chair
Keith Sanders, Owensboro, Secretary/Treasurer
and Members: Madeline Abramson, Norma B. Adams, Daniel L. Ash, Thomas E. Banta, Brady Barlow, Matthew Barzun, Cynthia D. Baumert, William E. Beasley, Jackie Betts, Robert Biagi, David Bolt, Matthew W. Breetz, Gary Bricking, Bob Brown, Patricia Brundage, Raymond M. Burse, Ellen Call, eHelen Carroll, Alva Mitchell Clark, Martha Layne Collins, Alfonso N. Cornish, Brad Cowgill, Daphine Cox, William Cox, Jr., Ben Cundiff, Beverly Dalton, Sim Davenport, Harold Dexter, Jean M. Dorton, Karen Dougherty, Adam Edelen, Paula Fryland, Pat Gish, Rebecca Goss, Jane Graham, Lois Gray, Stephen Grossman, Kevin Hable, Jean R. Hale, Donna S. Hall, Marion Halliday, Michael Hammons, Necia Harkless, Billy Harper, Marianne Schmidt Hurtt, Sylvia Watson Jaegers, Esther P. Jansing, Nancy Jarett, Franklin K. Jelsma, JoAnn T. Johnson, Doug Jones, Cheryl Karp, Judy Kasey, Joseph W. Kelly, Dan Lacy, Ric Ladt, Carol Lamm, Mary Jane Littleton, Fannie Louise Maddux, Roger M. Marcum, Elissa May-Plattner, William McCann, Lewis N. Melton, Pam Miller, Wade Mountz, P. Daugherty Murphy, Dana Nicholson, Charlie Owen, Col Owens, Kent Oyler, Dennis Pearce, Laura A. Pitman, Hiram C. Polk, Jr., Margaret G. Pope, Louis Prichard, Kathy Reed, Teresa Combs Reed, Josephine D. Richardson, Jill E. Robinson, Jean Rosenberg, Linda Rumpke, Pamela Papka Sexton, Albert P. Smith, Jr., Alice Sparks, David Tachau, J. Maynard Thomas, Lynda M. Thomas, Barney A. Tucker, Lois Combs Weinberg, Mary Gwen Wheeler, Harvie Wilkinson and William H. Wilson.

The Committee intends to launch a national search, but finding the right person to lead will be a major challenge. How does the Committee replace an individual who had great success and no major flaws? This is a tough act to follow.

It is unclear, from my vantage point, how many other individuals have the set of experiences, beliefs, knowledge and skills which, combined with Sexton's political accumen, have allowed them to navigate the choppy political waters of large-scale school reform. But, if anyone knows, it will surely be the Committee, which has shared their grassroots approach widely. Perhaps there are other Prichard Committees out there in other states.

Additionally, the Prichard Committee is not simply replacing their latest leader. They are replacing the group's founder and that challenge runs much deeper. Everything about the group's identity, it's philosophies, how it conducts business, how it studies issues, how it communicates with its constituents, where it stands on issues - virtually everything that is important - was established and nurtured by Sexton's steady hand. It will be difficult to interview candidates without comparing everyone to Sexton and noting what will surely be substantial differences.

Cindy Heine told KSN&C that the Committee had already started thinking about a transition in leadership, but I'm sure everyone thought that would be accomplished over time, with Sexton still around to guide and break in the new Executive Director. That was Sexton's plan. Bob and I had just begun a series of planned interviews intended to capture his thinking on a wide range of issues at the time of his death. He was thinking about this day, but he envisioned a gradual withdrawl from the work he loved.

Prichard Chair Sam Corbett told Education Week,
"We feel a lot of pressure. No one is irreplaceable, but Bob comes pretty close," he said. Mr. Sexton had the rare gift for being able to work on a politically fraught issue without making enemies on either side of the partisan aisle, Mr. Corbett said. "He was able to walk that magic line," Mr. Corbett said.
Ed Week Notes Sexton Passing

Education Week's Alyson Klein posted an article on education advocate Bob Sexton this week.

Sexton was cited as a "champion of Kentucky's pioneering and nationally influential efforts in K-12 education reform" and for his leadership of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

In his role at the helm of the Prichard Committee, based in Lexington, Ky., Mr. Sexton helped shape the Kentucky Education Reform Act, or KERA, which served as
an early model of state-based accountability for schools.

Mr. Sexton was also a visible force in national education policy. He served on the board of the Education Trust, an organization in Washington that advocates for poor and minority children, as well as the board of the Education Commission of the States and numerous other organizations. Since 1992, he had served on the board of trustees of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week.

I don't believe there has been a more influential education advocate in recent Kentucky history.

Sexton is seen here with Harry Moberly, an influential legislator during the same period. Moberly was recognized by the Prichard Committee, on May 10th, as a "leading advocate for education and an expert on the state budget." It marked only the second time the organization had presented the award.

A Democrat from Richmond, Moberly was first elected to the state House in 1979. He was involved in the task force that developed the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 and has spearheaded efforts to improve the state's testing program, upgrade teaching quality, and promote school technology. He is a former chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

As Klein points out, Sexton was closely associated with KERA which was passed in response to the Rose Case where, in 1989, the Kentucky Supreme Court declare that the legislature had failed to meet its constitutional duty to create an "efficient school system. The court declared the entire system to be unconstitutional.

Sexton had been a professor of history at Murray State University, an administrator at the University of Kentucky and took on leadership of the Prichard Committee in 1983.

Sexton led the push for using student progress measures as a means of assessing school effectiveness, a model that caught on nationally.

KSBA's Brad Hughes told Klein that "Prichard was probably the linchpin for the start of the grassroots push that … led to KERA....[Sexton] was always out there [saying] that we are asking schools to do a tremendous amount to make tremendous changes, and the schools really had to have the resources...He was a tireless advocate, and some would say, a tireless agitator....When he had something to say, he didn’t wait for someone else to call him."

In fact, the night before his death Aug. 26, Mr. Sexton was on the phone with journalists, Mr. Hughes said, to talk about the next steps for state lawmakers in pushing ahead with a school improvement agenda after Kentucky fell short as a
finalist in its quest for up to $175 million in federal Race to the Top money. Mr. Sexton had scheduled those interviews himself, Mr. Hughes said.
Education Trust's Kati Haycock told Ed Week that Sexton's Prichard Committee served as a testament to the power of state-level activism. The Prichard Committee demonstrated how grassroots education advocacy utilizing "well-regarded citizens" at the local community level got the attention of legislators and created momentum for change.

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