Three of Kentucky’s top education supporters were recognized for their work in helping advance education in Southern and Eastern Kentucky at Forward in the Fifth’s 25th anniversary celebration and “Unbridled Learning” Educational Summit on  Nov. 7 on the campus of Hazard Community and Technical College.

U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), the visionary behind the creation of Forward in the Fifth, was presented Forward in the Fifth’s inaugural AppLE (Appalachian Leaders in Education) award for his role in establishing the nonprofit organization in 1986.

Rogers, in turn, personally recognized two other education leaders at the event for their contributions to education reform.

Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the national Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and former Kentucky Commissioner of Education, and Paul E. Patton, president of the University of Pikeville and two-term Kentucky governor, were presented Difference Maker Awards from Congressman Rogers for making a positive impact on education in the region and throughout the entire commonwealth.

The award presentations were made before nearly 200 educators, business leaders, parents, and students in attendance at the First Federal Building on the Hazard Community and Technical College campus to celebrate Forward in the Fifth’s success and accomplishments over the last 25 years.

During Wilhoit’s tenure as Kentucky’s Education Commissioner from 2000-2006, leadership, finance reform, equity initiatives, preschool and technology enhancement were implemented as part of the historic Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA).

Wilhoit addressed educators and community leaders at the anniversary event’s “Unbridled Learning” Educational Summit, which highlighted the state’s new Unbridled Learning accountability system mandated by Kentucky Senate Bill 1. The new system replaces testing systems established under KERA.

Participants at the summit attended breakout sessions on common core standards, college and career readiness, dropout prevention, and the new accountability system.

Patton, who spoke earlier in the day at a combined meeting of the Kentucky River and Big Sandy P-16 Councils, helped overhaul Kentucky’s higher education system after being elected governor in 1995.

Patton served two terms as Kentucky governor from 1995 to 2003, and was named president of the University of Pikeville in early 2010.

 As the first AppLE award recipient, Rogers was presented a gift of appreciation acknowledging his work with Forward in the Fifth until a special commissioned regional artist’s rendering of the AppLE award trophy is released early next year.

Beginning in 2012, Forward in the Fifth will accept nominations for the AppLE awards in four categories: student or student group; parent or parent group; educator or related staff; and business, civic group, or community leaders.