Education advocate, innovator passes away

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Robert F. Sexton, the longtime executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and a long-respected education advocate, died Aug. 26 following a struggle with cancer. Sexton was 68.

Sexton headed the Prichard Committee from the time it was formed in 1983 to advocate for education in Kentucky. Before joining the Prichard Committee, Sexton was deputy director of the Council on Higher Education, which was replaced by the Council on Postsecondary Education created by the 1997 higher education reform.

“I have known Bob for years, and working with him on the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence gave me the opportunity to see firsthand how deeply he valued Kentucky and how committed he was to improving education for all our students,” Gov. Steve Beshear said. “His passing leaves an enormous void in our state. Many Kentuckians may not realize the revolutionary impact Bob had on shaping our state’s education practices, but it is not an exaggeration to say that Bob Sexton has influenced and enriched the education experience for generations of students. The most fitting memorial to Bob Sexton will be for us to continue to build on the enduring legacy of quality education he has left us.”

Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, a post created by the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 for which the Prichard Committee worked to see enacted, said Sexton had “an unswerving dedication to strengthening Kentucky’s public education system.” Holliday called Sexton’s passing both a personal and professional loss.

Over 34 years, Sexton’s 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.

Sexton spent most of his career building the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, an unusual and exceptional non-profit organization that reached across the state to include parents and grandparents, educators, policy analysts, and politicians in strong organized efforts to improve Kentucky schools and universities.

He also served on the boards of the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center and the New Opportunity School for Women. He was a founder of the Governor’s Scholars Program and the Kentucky Center for Public Issues. He was a visiting scholar at Harvard University and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, according to information released by the Prichard Committee.

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 Sexton’s life and career is set for Oct. 16 at 1:30 p.m. at the Haggin Auditorium on the campus of Transylvania University in Lexington. Memorials may be made to the Robert F. Sexton Legacy Fund, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, P.O. Box 1658, Lexington KY 40588.

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