This from The Prichard Commimttee:
By any calculation, Robert F. Sexton was the most significant figure in public education in Kentucky in the last half century. In his 27 years as executive director of the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence, he set a high bar for public education in Kentucky — and proved to be an effective advocate for nationally recognized reforms.
His death, on Thursday at the age of 68, after a brave fight with cancer, leaves the commonwealth without one of its most articulate and respected leaders.
A Kentucky native and the product of Louisville schools, Dr. Sexton went on to Yale University and the University of Washington. He might have made a career for himself as an historian, on a quiet campus. But instead he returned to his home state, where he became a leading advocate for reform, at a time when such a figure was vitally needed.
He became involved in such important efforts as the Governor's Scholars and the Kentucky Center for Public Issues. A strong advocacy group was needed (Kentucky then ranked 45th in the nation by most educational comparisons), and Dr. Sexton was chosen in 1983 to lead it. The Prichard Committee on Academic Excellent was created to honor the legacy of Edward F. Prichard Jr. (1915-84), the attorney and public servant whose career focused on reform, particularly that of education, which he knew had to happen for the state to succeed economically and culturally.
When the state Supreme Court in 1989 ruled that education funding in Kentucky was inherently unequal, and unconstitutional, Dr. Sexton became among the key advocates for a top-to-bottom reorganization. The result, which became the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, must stand as the high water mark of his influence and success.
But as Dr. Sexton was the first to tell us, passing a law, even one that was a national model, was only a start. Over the following two decades, he relentlessly asserted the need for accountability of teachers and students, for improved pre-school education for all Kentucky youngsters, and for learning that molded the way students think, not just the facts they could recite.
His efforts occurred right up to the end — he was on the telephone just Wednesday night, reacting to the state's second loss of federal Race to the Top dollars for education. It was part of the challenge.
“We've spent the last 100 years near the bottom,” Dr. Sexton told The Courier-Journal's Pam Platt in an interview last year. “Let's spend the next 100 years much closer to the top. We've shown we can do this.”
It was Bob Sexton who showed the way. Now the rest of us must find a way to follow his example.
SEXTON Dr. Robert Fenimore, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and a long-respected education advocate, died Thursday evening, August 26, 2010, at the University of Kentucky Medical Center following a struggle with cancer.
He was born to Claude F. Sexton and Jane W. Sexton Jan 13, 1942. His passing is a deep loss not only to his family and friends, but to generations of children who did not know him and may not hear of him.
Over 34 years, his work grew to include not only Kentucky schools, but the nation's. He believed passionately that all children could learn at high levels and that all parents could be empowered to know about and help their children's teachers and schools. He deeply respected the teaching profession and believed that teachers could also reach high levels on behalf of their students. He advocated for their respect among the professions and for higher salaries.
He spent most of his career building the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, an unusual and exceptional non-profit organization that reached around the Commonwealth to include parents and grandparents, educators, policy analysts, and politicians in strong organized efforts to improve Kentucky schools and universities.
He was a civil, dedicated man who listened to all opinions, analyzed all available information and came forward with a vision, looking for paths to larger lives for the people of his beloved state. His persistence and passion for better education was in play until the moment of his passing.
He was interested in and uplifted by experiences and friends from many arenas: the arts, the literary community, the legal profession, the culinary world, the world of news and journalism, and all things related to public policy, politics and history.
He, with his wife Pam and children and friends, linked themselves to nature- to forests and birds, rivers, boats and fishing, hiking and exploring, especially the fascinating corners of Kentucky and Wyoming (Pam's native home), as well as the broader world of the United States and Europe. He was enamoured with fly-fishing and many of the country's great trout streams. Much of his deepest thinking was accomplished while standing in the midst of a cold river, wearing his waders, fly rod in hand.
With great joy and attention, he collected the art of a diverse group of Kentucky artists and surrounded himself in home and office by their work and called many of them friends. He loved music, especially spirituals and Kentucky traditional and Bluegrass music, and actors and dancers of all stripes. He was avid reader of policy, history, well-crafted fiction, poetry, and enthusiastically talked about literature.
He is survived by his 94 year-old mother Jane W. Sexton of Lexington, his wife of 25 years, Pamela Papka Sexton; one daughter, Rebecka Byrne Sexton of Chicago; one son, Robert Byrne Sexton, of San Jose, CA; three step-children, Ouita Papka Michel (Chris) of Midway; Paige Papka Richardson of Lexington; and Perry Aaron Papka of Frankfort and two granddaughters, Willa Dru Michel and Lily Kathryn Schade, and the mother of his children, Kathryn Johansson of Chicago.
Along with family, he is survived by a close circle of beloved friends and caretakers, including three long-time brothers-in-spirit, Bob Lamson of Seattle, Hugh Straley of Seattle, and Russ Edgerton of Washington D.C.
His work was made possible by the loyal and dedicated staff of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, who became his extended family. Pam and all of Bob's children are grateful to them as well as too the large team of caring doctors and nurses who helped make his last year possible.
A native of Louisville, Bob was a member of the first graduating class of Waggener High School, the first valedictorian and student body president. He held a bachelor's degree from Yale University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington. He was a visiting scholar at Harvard University and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and had been awarded honorary degrees from Berea College, Georgetown College, Bellarmine University and Eastern Kentucky University.
Bob's many civic contributions included serving as a member of the board that created the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington and on the boards of the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center and the New Opportunity School for Women. He was a founder of the Kentucky's Governor's Scholars Program and of the Kentucky Center for Public Issues.
His national board service included Editorial Projects in Education (publishers of Education Week and Teacher Magazine), the Education Trust, the Center for Teaching Quality, the Education Commission of the States and the American Association for Higher Education. He also served on advisory groups for several national foundations.A memorial service and tribute to Bob's life and career is planned for Oct 16, 2010. Memorials may be made to the Robert F. Sexton Legacy Fund, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, P.O. Box 1658, Lexington, KY 40588.
A memorial service for Robert F. Sexton, the longtime executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence who died Thursday, will be held Oct. 16.
The time and place have not yet been determined. Milward-Broadway Funeral Home in Lexington is handling arrangements.
Sexton, a leader of education reform in Kentucky for 30 years, died Thursday night at the University of Kentucky Medical Center following a long battle with cancer. He was 68.The Kentucky Educational Television network will air at 10:30 p.m. Sunday a 2007 interview Sexton had with Bill Goodman, host of the show, "One to One," about education reform.
Memorials may be made to the Robert F. Sexton Legacy Fund, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, P.O. Box 1658, Lexington, Ky. 40588.
"We've Got to Continue On"
Bob Sexton commented at Bert Comb’s testimonial dinner, in 1990, about the difficulties that lay ahead for Kentucky school reform after the passage of KERA. Sexton was beginning to understand the breadth of commitment required to implement such a sweeping reform.
The early days of reform required diligent attention to many details and the legislature as well as the Department of Education needed support in order to effect change at the classroom level, and to resist those who would simply prefer to throw the reform out. Intellectual leadership was called for.
The Prichard Committee had a decision to make. The Committee had already reinvented itself from a group with a higher education mission into an elementary and secondary education watchdog. After the passage of the KERA, it evolved again, into one dedicated to supporting the changes; not a lapdog, but clearly unwilling to be too critical.
But the larger question of systemic reform outweighed any particular problems with implementation. Sexton recalled the internal debate about whether the Prichard Committee should continue after the passage of reform. "I think it was a critical decision as to whether to continue" [the Prichard Committee after KERAs adoption], Sexton said.
"By the late 1980s I was getting pretty tired of this whole thing," Sexton told interviewer Catherine Fosl. "The work was beginning to get a little bit boring. It was like one more damn legislative session, and another Governor to argue with, another press conference. Same old, same old, again and again. And I had kind of said, ‘Should I move on to whatever else is next?’"
In the mid 80's Sexton WAS the Prichard Committee and he was scratching out a future for the organization on a day-by-day basis. "The fund raising was not fun," Sexton said. "Still isn’t, but it was less fun then because…we never knew where our money was going to come from... There was the question of what our staff does…How long do we do this?"
One imagines how easy it would have been for Sexton to declare victory in 1990 and quit.
But just at that moment, things began to change. Kentucky had been all over the national newspapers and when Sexton talked to a national foundation about support they were suddenly showing interest in the Prichard Committee.
"I mean, things had changed dramatically…for us…just in the few weeks after the reform act passed…Kentucky had never gotten that kind of positive publicity. So that was quite an upper…The boredom factor changed," Sexton said.
Sexton, and then Prichard Chair Wade Mountz, wrote to the membership asking whether the committee should fold up its tent. "Overwhelmingly, people wrote back and said, ‘No, we’ve got to continue on'," Sexton reported.
Whenever a strong, highly-regarded "founder" leaves an organization there is always concern about his or her replacement. Sometimes there is a concern for the life of the organization itself.
The desire to find "another Bob" will be strong. But there isn't another Bob. The Prichard Committee's next leader will be a different person with a different style and a different perspective on the work. Who will fill Bob's shoes?
Following Sexton's death the Prichard Committee wasted no time assuring the public that it would remain a vital organization stating, "The committee will honor his legacy by continuing the important work that framed his career of public service."