Graphic with 5 headshot photos that reads: Alisha Reeves, Jennifer Hagan, Kathy Meredith, Lori Bean, Nicole Scarberry.

The Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Early Learning hired five early learning specialists using ARP ESSER funding to help address unfinished learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) Office of Special Education and Early Learning (OSEEL) is using federal funding to help address the unfinished learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Preschool through 2nd-grade students experienced some of the greatest loss of instruction, according to KDE Program Manager David Wickersham.

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act – which included more than $2 billion for Kentucky public schools – authorized a third round of funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. The federal funding supports the safe and sustained return to in-person learning and expands equity by supporting students who need it most, particularly those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

OSEEL is using ARP ESSER funding to take steps to support families, schools and teachers as they navigate changes to early learning, student’s transitions into school and supports for school and staff in addressing the needs of early learners.  

In order to provide this support, OSEEL hired five early learning specialists: Lori Bean, Jennifer Hagan, Kathy Meredith, Alisha Reeves and Nicole Scarberry.

ARP Project Lead Traci Sharpe and ARP Project Advisor Jillian McGraw are working with both the early learning team and the postsecondary transition team

“I truly believe we will be able to identify the barriers, overcome obstacles and unite like-minded people who are passionate about changing the trajectory for our students with disabilities and early learners,” said Sharpe. 

McGraw said early learners have experienced a lack of essential education and experiences during a critical window of time in their development.

“We are passionately and strategically dedicated to providing support for students in preschool through 2nd-grade, as well as other stakeholders such as communities, families, educators, and school districts,” McGraw said. 

Lori Bean

Born and raised in Franklin, Bean is a third-generation teacher with 29 years of service to public education. She began her career as an elementary teacher in the Simpson County School District and taught for 14 years. As a classroom teacher, she served as a team leader and was awarded the Campbellsville University Excellence in Teaching Award.

In 2007, Bean left the classroom to serve as a curriculum, instruction and assessment specialist for 1st-3rd grade at Simpson Elementary (Simpson County). She played a key role in establishing a Response to Intervention system at the elementary level. Bean developed and presented professional development involving literacy, gifted and talented and formative assessment. She also planned and coordinated family event nights at her school and developed a training program for guest readers.

Two years later, Bean became the curriculum, instruction and assessment specialist for kindergarten at Franklin Elementary (Simpson County), a role she served in for 13 years. While at Franklin Elementary, she also spent time as a reading interventionist, a math interventionist, high school dance team coach and a library media specialist. 

“Early learning has always been my passion,” she said. “I am excited about the opportunities of working with this amazing team. This work will allow our team to support, encourage and empower the early learning teachers in our state as they continue to do the most important job in the world.” 

Bean completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Western Kentucky University (WKU). She is a credential trainer through Childcare Aware of Kentucky. She also taught for VIPKid, a company that allowed her to virtually teach students in China. 

Bean lives in Franklin with her husband, Craig. She has three children, Kate, Logan and Sam, and one granddaughter, Rylee. 

Jennifer Marcum Hagan

Hagan has dedicated 18 years of service in Kentucky’s public education system. She began her career as a public preschool teacher at Bardstown Independent School District where she taught 3- and 4-year-old students. During her time at Bardstown, she served two years as the childcare outreach liaison. In her role, she collaborated with local childcare centers and Head Start, providing support through mentoring and training of childcare workers, teachers and other employees.

“It is my hope that through this opportunity I can educate our communities on the importance of early childhood education and establishing a sound educational foundation for the children of Kentucky,” said Hagan. “By supporting early education teachers with high-quality, evidence-based practices we can have a lasting impact on our youngest students.”

Hagan also served as a developmental interventionist for First Steps, where she provided interventions to children birth to age 3 that focused on supporting children’s learning through interactions with other people, particularly caregivers. Using a coaching approach, she was able to support families as they navigate their child’s learning and development. 

Hagan completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky and her master’s and Rank 1 at the University of the Cumberlands. She is a credentialed trainer for the state of Kentucky and has a passion for supporting early childhood educators.

Raised in Laurel County, Hagan lives in Bardstown with her husband, Hart, a social studies teacher in Bardstown Independent School District, and sons, Gibson and Cannon.

Kathy Meredith

With nearly 40 years of service across West Virginia and Kentucky, Meredith has dedicated her career to working with students with autism and significant disabilities, with a major focus on family engagement. Her career began as a special education teacher in Cabell County Schools (West Virginia), where she focused on classroom inclusion, pre-vocational studies and job coaching for students with moderate disabilities in natural settings.

After leaving the classroom, Meredith served as a family advocate and coordinator for the Marshall University Autism Training Center. Following her work there, she spent the bulk of her career with the Kentucky Educational Development Corporation as a regional consultant for students with autism and complex needs.

Meredith’s most recent role was as a state preschool Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) coach and facilitator for KDE. She helped train regional coaches in the Pyramid Strategies and currently serves as a certified national consultant for the Pyramid Model Consortium.

“I’m very passionate about my work in training teachers how to determine the what and why for their challenging behaviors to develop evidence-based practices that support early learners in emotional and social competence,” said Meredith. “Given the added trauma from COVID, it is most important that we give these students, families and school staff the coping skills strategies they need to be successful in school.”

Born and raised in West Virginia, Meredith received her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Marshall University. She has two children, Joshua and Keenan, and currently resides in Kenova, W.Va., with her husband, Berlin.

Alisha Reeves

Reeves has spent 26 years serving Kentucky’s public schools. Raised in Franklin, Tenn., Reeves’ passion for working with individuals with disabilities began when she worked alongside her grandmother in a Sunday School class for adults with disabilities and continued to grow as she served as a camp counselor at Muscular Dystrophy Association summer camps.

Reeves began her career as an elementary special education teacher, serving students who were faced with unique learning challenges. As a special educator, she collaborated with other teachers to create inclusive environments where all students could be successful.

In 2005, Reeves became the director of special education and preschool coordinator for Caverna Independent Schools. She moved into a similar role in 2010 with Glasgow Independent Schools. In both roles, she worked to support students, teachers, families and other administrators to ensure all students received an appropriate high-quality education.  

Reeves is excited about the potential impact the work can have in improving outcomes for education in Kentucky. 

“As we reflect on the impact COVID-19 had on the lives of students, educators and families, we can see the pandemic has given us moments to celebrate as well as heightened our awareness of the inequities faced by so many of our neighbors throughout the state,” she said. “The ARP work allows us to explore ways to close learning gaps, support teachers and administrators and increase family engagement.”

Reeves received her bachelor’s, master’s and Rank 1 from WKU. She was the recipient of the 2002 Kentucky Council for Exceptional Children Special Education Teacher of the Year Award.

Reeves lives in Glasgow with her husband, Ron. They have three children, Sam, Drew and Megan.  

Nicole Scarberry

With 17 years of service to Kentucky’s public schools, Scarberry found her passion for early learning when she began her career as a substitute teacher for kindergarten through 8th grade. From there, she moved into her full-time role as a kindergarten teacher with Johnson County Schools.

During her time as a teacher, she worked closely with community partners to improve family engagement within her classroom and participated in several evidence-based practice sessions and high-leverage strategy trainings. She was an active member of the Family Resource Center Advisory Council and participated in several outreach projects within her community. She organized and held parent meetings for students transitioning into kindergarten.

“During my education career I have always held the motto ‘Every Child, Every Day’ because the children are the heart of our schools. I also know that our school staff are the heartbeats,” said Scarberry. “Serving as a teacher at the height of the pandemic, I know not only what our students lost, but our staff too. I hope that I can continue to find ways to empower not only teachers, but our support staff as well, and help them reignite their passion to teach.

“We have to be able to give them the correct support and strategies to overcome, adapt, unite and to remember it’s perhaps not just ‘Every Child, Every Day’ but ’Every Person, Every Day.’ We are all in this together.” 

Scarberry completed her associate degree at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, her bachelor’s degree at Morehead State University and her master’s degree at Union College. She is pursuing her educational leadership degree and working on writing a children’s book. She is a Level 5 credential trainer for Kentucky. 

Scarberry was raised in the hills of Martin County and is a third-generation teacher. She now lives with her husband, Jeff, and her daughters, Lexie and Chloe, in Paintsville.


Wickersham believes focusing ARP ESSER funding on early learning helps the agency address three areas of need: family engagement, schoolwide supports and teacher professional development.

“A lot of familial supports disappeared in terms of support systems they would have at home and not just in terms of safety and housing,” he said. “The team will look into ways to directly engage and support families as they help with that role of becoming good partners over a child’s educational life.”

Historically, Kentucky has been widely supportive of positive behavior interventions and providing schoolwide systems of support, Wickersham said, but a broader model is a new need.

“What’s bubbling up is the idea that there are behavioral needs we have never seen before. It stems from lack of exposure to other kids and lack of socialization to a school environment,” he said. “Societally, that’s not a need anybody has seen probably since the start of public education. Where kids don’t know what lunch is like, what the building is like or what group time is like.”

Based on feedback from school districts across the Commonwealth, the team gained insight into the academic and behavioral impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The supports to teachers and schools will include resources and training on the emerging needs as early learners get re-engaged or become engaged for the first time in public school.