Two education leaders, Sarah Vivian and Jeremy Camron, were named recipients of the seventh-annual David Karem Award for Excellence in Education Policy during the Kentucky Board of Education’s (KBE’s) regular meeting on June 7.
Vivian, principal of The Academy (Franklin County), and Camron, principal of Owensboro Day Treatment (Daviess County), were recognized for their role in passing legislation to expand the high school equivalency program to include youth in all district-operated alternative programs.
The Karem Award, which honors former KBE member and state legislator David Karem, is given annually to state policymakers, education leaders or citizens who have contributed to the improvement of education by serving on national commissions, task forces or other significant boards and organizations. Recipients demonstrate outstanding leadership and have made an impact on education policy and the educational system. They also exhibit a commitment to work collaboratively with different stakeholders.
Both recipients said they were honored to be chosen for the recognition.
“This is a reflection of the collaboration of many to provide opportunities for students across the Commonwealth,” said Camron.
The team at the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, Kentucky Educational Collaborative for State Agency Children (KECSAC), the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, Sarah Vivian and state Rep. DJ Johnson “provided the knowledge of the process and support needed to bring down a barrier to attaining the GED for students in alternative education programs,” he said.
Alternative education programs (AEPs) are special programs designed to provide remediation, acceleration or unique learning opportunities that would not otherwise be available to students in the traditional school setting. While AEPs historically have been associated with at-risk students, these programs serve a wide variety of students, including those identified for special education, those who are gifted and talented, adjudicated, abused, neglected or differently abled, and other students who can benefit from a nontraditional learning environment.
It was Vivian and Camron’s shared passion that led to legislative change.
“During COVID, Jeremy and I were in a meeting together and the discussion began about students in alternative school not having the same access to the GED as those students in state agency alternative schools,” said Vivian. “My building is composed of both programs, and I was really struggling with a potential drop who was not a state agency student. From there, the GED bill was born and now all students in alternative schools have access to the GED and one less barrier to overcome.”
To qualify for the award, recipients must have demonstrated leadership in policy development. Nominator Ronnie Nolan, Ed.D., KECSAC executive director, said Vivian and Camron have the kind of education policy expertise that comes from being in classrooms every day.
“Jeremy and Sarah know firsthand how difficult educating our state’s most vulnerable student populations can be,” Nolan said. “They both work in state agency programs that serve children and youth who are committed to or in the supervision of the Commonwealth.”
In 2017, they worked successfully with KECSAC on expanding high school equivalency options for youth in state care. That opened their eyes to a need.
“They began to see firsthand issues in their own blended programs, where state agency children sat next to district-referred and placed students in alternative learning environments,” said Nolan in his nomination. “Those state agency children were permitted to participate in a high school equivalency program, while their classmates – students who were facing many of the same educational hurdles – could not. They decided to take action.”
Vivian and Camron contacted KECSAC, the Kentucky Department of Education and members of the legislature to begin discussions on expanding the high school equivalency program to include youth in all district-operated alternative programs. After countless meetings with stakeholders and legislators, they had a draft bill and a legislative sponsor, Rep. Johnson.
Their bill, House Bill (HB) 194, was adopted unanimously by both chambers of the legislature during the 2022 legislative session. HB 194 permits students who are age 17 and older who are being served in a district-operated alternative program and not on track to graduate (as defined by their local school board) with the opportunity to enroll in a district-operated high school equivalency program.
“This legislation is already changing the lives of students and has created additional pathways for student success,” said Nolan.
It is the students that drive Vivian to do what she does every day
“Can I tell you how much I love my school kids?” she said. “The kids that need the most love, the kids who crave attention and deserve attention, the kids who can move mountains if people pour into them and do not shy away from the hard work. They need less barriers and more opportunities. This is why I advocate, this is why I want more for our students. They deserve it.”
Jason E. Glass, Kentucky’s education commissioner and chief learner, said Vivian and Camron encompass the spirit and intent of the award.
“They are dedicated to the students across the Commonwealth and advocate to remove barriers to ensure that all students have the opportunities to move forward and be successful,” said Glass.
KBE Chair Lu S. Young applauded Vivian and Camron for recognizing there is a better way for things to be done and for stepping up “to advocate on behalf of kids” across Kentucky.
“We appreciate your willingness to step up and pioneer this work,” she said.
Moving education forward was a priority of the award’s namesake, David Karem. He sat on the Kentucky Board of Education from 2009 to 2016. He served Kentucky for 33 years in the Kentucky State Senate and was chair of the Senate Education Committee. During his tenure in the Kentucky General Assembly, Karem championed the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act and led the efforts for the 4% school tax levy by districts.
Vivian has a bachelor’s degree in special education and a master’s degree in educational leadership. She started her career as a special education teacher at Elkhorn Elementary School (Franklin County) before making the move to The Allendale Association in Lake Villa, Ill., where she was a special education teacher, education director and technology director. While teaching and earning her master’s degree, she found herself on the path of student advocacy, which led to a desire to return to Kentucky and to the classroom.
Back in Kentucky, she taught special education before accepting the position of principal at The Academy.
Camron, who previously served in the U.S. Navy, has a bachelor’s degree in education, a master’s degree in educational administration and a Rank I certification for district public personnel. He taught physical education before transitioning to a self-contained classroom in a middle and high school alternative education program. He also taught arts and humanities before becoming the college and career readiness coach through the Green River Region Educational Cooperative.
While serving as the coach, he collaborated with stakeholders to create the Daviess County Public School College and Career Readiness programs that have driven the district to have the highest rate of dual credit attainment in the Commonwealth. He also founded the Kentucky Association of College and Career Coaches.
The 2022 Kentucky Association of School Administrators selected Camron as the 2022 Administrator of the Year, and more recently, he was chosen for induction into the Class of 2023 Kentucky Veterans Hall Fame.