The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) named Leon Mooneyhan, chief executive officer of the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC), and Brigitte Blom, president and CEO of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, as the 2022 recipients of the Karem Award for Excellence in Education Policy during its June 8 regular meeting.
The award, which is named for former KBE member David Karem, recognizes a Kentucky policymaker, education leader or citizen who has made notable state-level contributions to the improvement of Kentucky’s public education system.
“What a delight. What a special opportunity this morning to give honor to who honor is due,” said KDE Chair Lu S. Young. “The Sen. David Karem Award is alive and well with these two amazing recipients.”
Over the course of his 53-year career in public education, early childhood education has been one of Mooneyhan’s greatest passions in public policy, said his nominator, Alicia Sells.
Mooneyhan is the founder of 3KT, which is a coalition of the Kentucky School Boards Association, the Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA) and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS). The three groups are joined by the Prichard Committee, Kentucky Retired Teachers Association, Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), and the Fayette and Jefferson County public schools. Under his leadership, the group has met weekly during legislative sessions for more than 10 years to collaborate on public policy issues.
“The time he volunteers to organize and facilitate the meetings speaks directly to his belief that positive and deliberative engagement in the legislative process will increase educational opportunities for Kentucky’s public school students,” said Sells.
Mooneyhan also has worked on regulatory review and development as chair of KDE’s Local Superintendents’ Advisory Council and as president of KASA and KASS.
During his tenure as superintendent of Shelby County Schools, he embraced KDE’s Minority Superintendent Internship Program at a time when no African Americans had served as superintendent of a Kentucky public school district.
He has significantly expanded OVEC’s leadership of Head Start in the cooperative’s school districts. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services chose OVEC as a new operator of Head Start in Jefferson County after the community’s children had not had access to Head Start services for more than three years. In 2015, he oversaw OVEC’s development of Kentucky’s first Early Childhood Educator Leadership Academy as part of the Commonwealths’ Race-to-the-Top Early Learning Challenge Grant.
“It’s been a privilege to lead organizations that have a positive impact on students and educators,” said Mooneyhan. “When we provide high-quality services, we impact not only students and educators, but also the whole community. I’ve always communicated the importance of having a well-educated community.”
Mooneyhan’s civic involvement also has been focused on Kentucky’s children. Among the many organizations he has served as a board member for are the Metro United Way Community Impact Cabinet, which directs funding to areas of highest need for families and children, and as chair of the Kentucky Court Appointed Special Advocate board.
“In September, I’m retiring after 53 years as an educator,” he said. “I’ve known several former award winners well, including Blake Haselton and Terry Holliday. Being recognized alongside them feels like a capstone to my career in education.”
Under Blom’s leadership, the Prichard Committee has stepped up for all Kentucky students by designing a “Big Bold Ask” – a six-year investment plan to increase funding in education by $1 billion by 2026, said her nominator, Wynn Radford.
The Big Bold Ask supports strategic and measurable outcomes in three areas of education: early childhood, K-12 and postsecondary. The General Assembly met the Big Bold Ask in the last biennium. She continues to call on legislators to meet the Big Bold Ask in the 2023-2024 biennium.
“When I got the call that I was receiving the David Karem Award, I was so surprised. I didn’t even know I’d been nominated,” said Blom. “I had the great honor and pleasure to serve on the Kentucky Board of Education with David. Being honored in his name makes receiving this award extra special.”
Two years ago, the Prichard Committee released a Call to Action for Racial Equity and Justice. In that statement, Blom expressed a commitment to doubling down on a longstanding call for greater equity in education outcomes, and for greater systemic and community accountability for the progress of every student.
“She continues to press policymakers to invest in adequate and equitable education – early childhood through postsecondary – and an accountability system that ensures each Kentucky student has the opportunities and the support to meet and exceed their potential,” said Radford.
In addition to her legislative advocacy, she established the Prichard Committee Education Fellows, which consists of Kentucky teachers who engage with Prichard to launch strategic initiatives designed for local improvement with education at the core, and to turn teacher-identified education priorities into reality in classrooms across the state. The fellows release an annual letter from Kentucky teachers every fall, solidifying the committee’s priorities and making recommendations for action.
“She believes the power of legislation should seek to improve education outcomes for Kentuckians of all backgrounds. Kentucky needs to support our educators with respect and resources that support their capacities to deliver a learning environment rich in inquiry, deep in understanding, and in honor to each and every learner in Kentucky’s classrooms,” said Radford.
In 2019, Blom was recognized as one of 50 Notable Women in Kentucky Politics and Government by the Kentucky Gazette. In 2018, under her leadership, the Prichard Committee received the 24th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. award from the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
“Education is one of the few things that can improve an individual’s life and the lives of their family in a lasting way,” Blom said. “We all have a role to play in championing successful education outcomes – from community and business voice, to the local school and district, and state policy. I’ve been fortunate to have played a role at all of these levels over the years.
“Day in and day out, for me, it’s about doing my part to ensure we build upon the gains made in education in the last 30 years – honoring those leaders, like David, who set Kentucky on a course of improvement. Every day, it’s about living up to their legacy and ensuring continued positive progress. Kentuckians deserve nothing less.”
Karem served on the KBE from 2009 through 2016 and again from December 2019 through April 2020. He served for 33 years in the Kentucky State Senate and as chairman of the Senate Education Committee. During his tenure in the Kentucky General Assembly, Karem championed the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) and led the efforts for the 4% school tax levy by school districts.
“The honor is, to me, that these two people have accepted the award because they are two people I have enormous respect for,” Karem said at the presentation.