A photo of Kelly Foster

KDE Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster

The National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators (NAESPA) announced Kelly Foster, associate commissioner at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), has been selected to receive the 2023 Bob Harmon Service to Education award.

Foster received the award for her advancement of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) through her school improvement work throughout the Commonwealth. For over 27 years, Foster has dedicated her career to ensuring students have the opportunity to receive a fair, equitable and high-quality education. Through her leadership and oversight of school improvement, numerous schools have exited their low-performing status and maintained their success over time.

Tara Rodriguez, director for the Division of School & Program Improvement in the Office of Continuous Improvement and Support, nominated Foster.

“I can think of no other individual in our state agency who has so fully exemplified the ideals of equity, integrity, and continuous improvement than Dr. Kelly Foster, and I give her my most sincere recommendation for the Bob Harmon Service to Education Award,” she said.

Foster’s willingness to share her practices with others set her nomination apart. Sharing the practices that lead to school improvement is evidenced by the book she co-authored, “Without Trumpets: Continuous Educational Improvement, Journey to Sustainability.” The book examines education in Kentucky beginning with landmark legislation in 1990 and how changes in statute and regulation, along with many key components such as knowledge about systems and organizational change along with stakeholder partnerships, can be used to implement the sustainable systems of continuous improvement that are necessary for lasting school improvement.

Each year, the NAESPA honors an individual that has made an exceptional contribution to the field of education and has demonstrated a dedication to meeting the needs of all students in a school, community, state or nation. Individuals recognized for this award must have:

  • Made an exceptional contribution to the field of education;
  • Demonstrated dedication to meeting the needs of all students in a school, community, state or nation; and
  • Made a substantial contribution towards advancing the purpose of the ESEA.

The award will be presented at the National ESEA Conference being held Feb.1-4 in downtown Indianapolis. Nominations were submitted from across the country and reviewed by a panel of leaders in education.


NAESPA is a membership organization made up of State ESEA Program Administrators, and their staff from each of the states and territories, charged with managing their state federal education program. They ensure compliance with federal regulations, but more importantly work to see that all children — especially those living in economically disadvantaged conditions — have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education.