RETROSPECTIVE: PAM MILLER
Pam Miller was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1938. She graduated magna cum laude from Smith College in 1960, having majored in history. Two years later, she married Ralph Miller, a physician and former Olympic skier. In 1970, Pam, Ralph, and their three small children moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where Ralph became a professor at the University of Kentucky. By 1974, Pam Miller had become the first woman to serve on the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council, and in 1993, she was the first woman to be elected mayor of Lexington. Since her 2003 retirement from city hall, Miller has served on and chaired the boards of the Prichard Committee; OperaLex (formerly the Opera Society); and the Council for Postsecondary Education.
On May 9, the Prichard Committee hosted a reception in honor of Pam’s contribution as an education advocate prior to the Millers’ move to Massachusetts.
Look into the history of many of Lexington’s signature programs and institutions, and you’re likely to find Pam Miller’s name somewhere close to the roots. The Lexington Farmer’s Market; Partners for Youth; the Rosie recycling program; the Lexington Children’s Museum; the Downtown Arts Center; the Kentucky Theater; the Purchase of Development Rights program, which protects prime Bluegrass farmland in perpetuity: Miller has played a crucial role in the existence of them all.
Miller arrived in the Bluegrass State in 1970, she had no ambition to change Lexington’s culture and landscape. She was a young mother of three, and despite having worked for The Congressional Quarterly in Washington, DC, and for an anti-poverty program in Boston, she had not given much thought to her future career. Her community involvement in Lexington, initially, was for “selfish” reasons: grocery store produce was meager, so she organized the city’s first farmer’s market; sanitary sewers were backing up into her yard, so she ran for city council to help find a solution.
Of course, she was aware that what benefitted her family could also benefit her community, and vice versa. As the mother of three children, it’s not surprising that many of the needs she witnessed in her new home state related to education. In 1979, Miller was appointed to the Prichard Committee on Higher Education in Kentucky’s Future, the organization that later became the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. The committee’s conversations on the state of education in Kentucky, Miller says, were life changing, and her ongoing involvement with the committee during her years of public service gave her “great perspective and insight into the problems with public education in Kentucky.”
As Prichard Committee founding chair Ed Prichard was famous for saying, “Education begins in the womb, and ends in the tomb.” As Mayor, Pam Miller remembered these words, and acted upon them.
“I really didn’t have a lot of control over the public school system,” she says, “but I always wanted to give kids extra opportunities for learning outside of the regular school day.” Miller created after-school programs and summer programs for children; initiated the creation of the Lexington Children’s Museum; and improved Lexington’s parks and greenspaces.
After retiring as mayor, Miller became more active with the Prichard Committee, serving as chair from 2006-2010. A key issue during those years, she says, was getting the legislature and public to continue backing the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.
In 2017, Pam and Ralph Miller will be moving to Lexington, Massachusetts, where they will be closer to children and grandchildren. They will be missed. Pam Miller’s impact on Kentucky’s landscape and culture, however, will be evident for countless years to come.
This Retrospective of Prichard Committee charter member Pam Miller is based on a series of oral history interviews conducted with Miller from 2014 to 2015. The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence Oral History Project, a joint project of the Prichard Committee and the University of Kentucky, was established in 2013 to explore and preserve the rich history of the Prichard Committee and its citizen leaders in education. The interviews may be accessed via the University of Kentucky’s oral history database: https://kentuckyoralhistory.org
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LOCAL PARENT LEADERS INVEST IN SUCCESS FOR ALL CHILDREN
When five of the 14 Northern Kentucky participants at parent leadership training last fall turned out to be from one school, it quickly became obvious that their ultimate project could have a big impact.
Indeed, Beechwood Elementary is seeing the outcome of a cohesive group of parents eager to learn more about how school works and how they can be more involved. In April, about 50 parents showed up for the first installment of Beechwood’s new Parent University, which taught parents about the basics of Kentucky academic standards, how schools decide their curriculum, how state testing works, and more.
This summer, the group has expanded efforts to students to continue reading and writing to avoid a weakening of skills over summer vacation. And next year, plans are already set for new Parent University gatherings that will go deeper on what students (and parents) need to know about math and reading.
The five parents, all fellows of the Governor’s Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership, the Prichard Committee’s signature parent engagement effort, said their training built the nucleus for a powerful expansion of deeper parent understanding and involvement at their school.
“We all signed up individually, but once we were together, we quickly knew that we needed to coordinate what we would try to do in our school,” said Maria Sanders, the mother of a fourth grader.
Rather than feeling swarmed by the GCIPL parents, school leaders were quick to see the opportunity for a big impact and suggested creating a wide-reaching educational forum for all parents, plus leadership on a program to expand summer learning. The close working relationship between the GCIPL grads and the school has helped the efforts gain traction, parents said.
Anne Chikwenhere, the mother of a fourth grader and kindergartener, said the group approach has strengthened the impact of the GCIPL and expanded the horizons for what the parents can accomplish. “The training was eye opening, and each of us felt ready to talk about what we could do that would help all of the kids at our school, help parents see the right way to be an advocate for their child and others, and allow all of that to become part of our school’s culture — what Beechwood is,” she said.
The Beechwood Parent University kick-off included widespread publicity and outreach, including a Facebook page and posting the event to YouTube so parents would couldn’t be at the event could still watch.
The parent-led summer’s literacy efforts have included partnerships with the city officials in Fort Mitchell to connect the school effort with civic summer family night events as well as coordinating with the Kenton County library’s summer reading program.
“We weren’t sure how all of this would go over with a broader audience. We know that parents in Beechwood are engaged, but all of us are also overextended, but we have seen a lot of appreciation and interest,” said Sanders, a trained lawyer who now works as a law firm business manager and yoga instructor in addition to her growing parent leadership efforts.
Chikwenhere said the strong working relationship between the parents and the school’s leadership has been encouraging and important. Seeing the interest of a wider group of parents for information and involvement, as well as the collaborative spirit of educators, has been great encouragement for the GCIPL fellows.
“The desire to help every child grow, really understand the school’s goals, be able to translate the jargon in the school improvement plan — it’s lit a fire for me that I didn’t know I had,” said Chikwenhere, a regional finance manager for Amazon. This spring, she was elected a parent member of the Beechwood Elementary school council.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Using parent leadership training to build the ranks of informed and active parents has also paid dividends in the growth and work of the Owsley County Parent Task Force. The group was launched and has been cultivated by 2012 GCIPL fellow Sue Christian, a family and community engagement specialist for Berea College’s Partners for Education program.
The task force is now made up of 13 members, eight of whom have become GCIPL fellows. The group’s mission is to work for the success of all students, not just their own children.
“I wanted to get parents really invested in making things better at school for all students, parents, and teachers,” Christian said. “We have a lot of children in our school district who don’t have an advocate. This group realizes we make things better for everyone when we address the suffering of all children and families.”
The Owsley County Parent Task Force, which also works closely with school and district leaders, has focused on five specific efforts: boosting teacher morale for student success; supporting grandparents who are raising children; math enrichment and support; anti-bullying efforts, and supporting families of special needs students. In the course of its work, task force parents have become school council members and taken on other leadership roles — and filled gaps where the school system needs help, like helping to distribute laptop computers at the start of school or enlisting volunteers to help students understand college applications.
As in GCIPL, the Owsley group has also worked to acquaint more parents with school fundamentals like standards, testing, planning, and student results. “I’m very proud to see how parents are coming to the table with knowledge,” Christian said, adding that many parents need such information to feel comfortable approaching educators and addressing school issues.
Recently, the Owsley County effort has turned its attention to planning for the future, seeking a community agency that can handle financial and organizational issues and naming a new leader with children in the district so that Christian, whose children have graduated, can serve as an adviser rather than quarterback.
“We have solidified ourselves by being consistent,” Christian said.
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NEW WEBSITE A CONVENIENT TOOL TO LEARN ABOUT KY’S PROGRESS IN EDUCATION
The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence has launched a new and improved web site, the first refresh in five years. At the heart of the new site, and all of the Committee’s outreach, is a commitment to clearly communicating the need to advance excellent education for all Kentuckians.
The new web site is an easy-to-use tool that allows anyone interested in Kentucky’s education system to access information about the many ways the Committee involves citizens in improving Kentucky’s public education system.
The new site lifts up the Committee’s core beliefs – Equity – that all children deserve to succeed in school and in life, Accountability – that students, parents and the public must be able to understand how schools perate and perform to ensure success, and Ambition – that Kentucky will achieve the national top tier in education excellence in this generation.
Communicating the Committee’s aspirations and providing practical information for people who want to be one click away from comprehensive information about Kentucky’s public education system and work with the Committee more deeply or support the cause of excellent education were always top of mind during design of the new site.
Visitors to the site can learn easily the Committee’s:
- History, volunteer and staff leadership and statewide membership by congressional district
- Policy action priorities – early childhood, excellent teaching, school climate and culture, college and career readiness and postsecondary education
- Engagement opportunities for students, parents and communities
- Detailed information on the key drivers of Kentucky’s education system such as the landmark Achievement Gap Report and annual updates, Top 20 by 2020 Report that compares Kentucky’s progress to other states and in-depth analysis of education policy and legislation
- Real-time links to the Committee’s blog and social media channels and an archive of news releases and other pertinent resources
In today’s rapid-fire environment, the majority of business introductions and transactions are made via search engines. An appealing web site that clearly answers the question “why is your organization in business,” is the most important communication strategy in an organization’s tool kit.
The new site will always be a work in progress the Committee learns to better serve its many partners who are also committed to making Kentucky’s public education system the best it can be. Ultimately, its success will be measured how it helps make the Committee’s aspirations for Kentucky’s children become reality.